Wind, ice and nor’easter after nor’easter have walloped Maine this winter. The brutal weather is also forcing schools to deal with unprecedented cancellations. Some have seen 10 or more snow days already, with more snow in sight. Now, school officials are trying to figure out how to make up all those days without extending too far into the summer.
The town of Lewiston has been hit hard by snow days this winter. Nine school days have been called off due to snow. Lewiston High School Junior Abukar Abdi says he’s dreading class in late June, where he and hundreds of high schoolers won’t be enjoying the summer and, instead, will be stuck cramming for finals.
“At the end of the year, teachers are going to try to fit in all the standards,” Abdi says. “So it’s going to be really hard for kids to catch up with school work, have them do all those standards. Summer school will have to be pushed back.”
Lewiston isn’t the only school that’s scheduled to push classes late into June. Windstorms, ice, floods and nor’easters have led some Maine districts to cancel school for upwards of 10 days already this winter.
According to Maine’s Department of Education, three schools in Maine have already requested waivers, and 10 others have requested changes to their calendars — and the department cautions that the number could keep going up as winter winds to a close.
For years, schools have had limited options when it comes to making up snow days. Districts could add days to the end of the school year, get rid of planned days off or request a waiver from the state. However, a 2015 law gave schools more flexibility. Now, a district can make up snow days by extending five school days by an additional hour.
SAD 44 in Bethel has taken advantage of that option since last year. This year, the district is extending the school day by 60 minutes for 25 straight school days in March and April.
Superintendent Dave Murphy says the new school calendar isn’t ideal. But he says it has worked better than adding extra school during the sweltering summer.
“I think it’s safe to say that by the end of the process, people recognized that it was a really good approach,” Murphy says. “And it worked out well for us. That’s why we went right back to again this year.”
Other districts in towns such as Rumford and Augusta are eyeing similar proposals. But the strategy does raise questions, particularly for athletes, who often need to leave for games early in the afternoon.
Murphy says that isn’t much of a problem in his district in March and April.
“We have it set up right now so it’s happening during what I would call mud season,” he says. “Basically, between February vacation and April vacation. So we’ll have some spring sports that start practices before April vacation. But they don’t really get into the meat of the games and stuff until after the kids come back.”
But not every school sees a longer day as being good for kids.
“Whatever we might have to do that way is going to be problematic,” says Bill Webster, the superintendent of Lewiston Public Schools.
Webster says extending school days would be difficult for his district. Students in Lewiston did say they’d prefer the longer hours to being stuck in school until late June — but Webster says afterschool jobs and grant-funded programs would be affected by the change. And he says the school’s alternative program, called Lewiston Academy, could lose instructional time if the high school schedule was pushed later.
“Those classes begin at 3 o’clock,” he says. “If we extend the regular school, those students that attend Lewiston Academy will be inconvenienced.”
Webster says he views extending the school day as a last option to make up Lewiston’s snow days. Instead, he’s proposing some alternatives, like holding class on a teacher workshop day and extending early release days.
Meanwhile, some schools are now finding other ways to avoid lengthening the school year. Some of Maine’s charter schools let students work from home on the occasional snow day. However, some schools say those options still aren’t feasible for larger districts just yet.
For now, school officials say they’re anxiously watching the Weather Channel and hoping any big storms avoid Maine.