Whitesburg KY
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County schools will get break

A proposal to use three days of spring vacation to make up for some of the days missed because of bad weather and other problems has been defeated by the Letcher County Board of Education.

The board voted unanimously last week against amending this year’s school calendar to hold classes for the first three days (April 6-8) of a scheduled week-long break.

Students so far have missed 17 days of classes because of bad weather and three days because of a non-consumption water advisory in November when petroleum was found leaking into the Whitesburg water system.

Letcher Schools Superintendent Anna Craft told the board the district might not qualify for 10 calamity days being awarded by the Kentucky Department of Education unless the district can show it has made a genuine effort to make up some of the missed days.

“I think it is within our best interest to take three days of spring break,” said Craft. “All of the counties around us are taking days from their spring breaks.”

Craft fears the district will miss more days before the end of the school year.

“This happens to be the year that weird happens,” she said, adding that attendance still might be affected by an outbreak of flu.

A few years ago, the board approved extending the school day by 23 minutes each day to “bank” time for those days when classes are canceled. Even though the district has already added all of its 10 “banked days” to the school calendar, held classes on President’s Day, and is scheduled to be in session on Election Day (May 19), eight days still must be accounted for.

If schools aren’t forced to be closed again and the state doesn’t grant any calamity days, classes will be in session until June 9. May 28 was the original closing day for the current school year.

Board Member Terry Cornett said he opposed the plan to take away days from spring break because of the effect it would have on families who already had plans to be out of town during the week.

“I think it will interfere with a lot of plans people have made,” said Cornett, who already had plans himself to take his daughter, a student in the district, to an out-oftown doctor’s appointment. “You get commitments with reservations and will lose your money.”

Letcher County Teachers Organization President Regina Brown said several school employees made plans to be away months ago assuming there would be a spring break.

“This one lady talked to me and she made her reservations in July,” said Brown. “I’ve got teachers that are contacting me saying ‘I don’t have any personal days what I am I going to do? I have already paid $4,000 for this or $2,000 for that and I can’t get my money back.’ They’ve not taken our spring break in years and I see it is a dilemma.”

Jeff Sergent, a teacher at Letcher County Central High School, said he and his wife, also a teacher at LCCHS, already have vacation plans and would have to take the three days off without pay if the board canceled part of spring break.

“We have already put money down that we can’t get back,” said Sergent. “We’d lose money by missing those days but we would lose more money by not going at this point.”

Under state law, teachers can’t use sick days to go on vacation. Students are allowed to take educational trips and still be counted present.

“We can take care of their child, but we can’t take care of them,” Board Chairman Will Smith said.

“You can’t take a sick day to go on vacation,” said Craft. “That is against the law. That is why people need to save their days. The sad part (of the law) is we do have conscientious employees. We have made it very clear that if you turn in sick days and aren’t sick, that is a crime.”

Smith said the decision on whether to cancel part of spring break was tough to make.

“We love our employees,” he said. “If we vote one way or another, it doesn’t mean we don’t care for our employees.”

Brown suggested to Craft that she let the state education department know that while the district missed the three days in November for the non-consumption water advisory, classes were still held for seven days in February when a second non-consumption advisory was issued. Brown said she thought having school without water showed the district was making an effort not to miss more days.

Board Member Dr. Sam Quillen Jr. said he was concerned about how effective it would be to have school during spring break.

“Will there be enough substitutes that week?” he asked. “Is it worth it?”

Other school district employees attending the meeting also weighed in on the issue, telling the board they had no problem with accepting a shortened spring break.

“I personally don’t have plans,” said Nancy Ratliff, secretary/treasurer of the local chapter of Kentucky Education Support Professional Association (KESPA). “To me I am comfortable with going the three days.”

“It’s fine with me,” said KESPA President Teresa Pigman. “I’m going to be cleaning my house.”

The board also spent 90 minutes in an expulsion hearing that was closed at the request of the father of the juvenile student in question. The board did not report what action was taken.

In other business, the board:

• approved a proposed revision to board policy (04.8) on the selling or disposing of school property. The board may now “sell or otherwise dispose of any personal property which is not needed or has become unsuitable for public use, or which would be suitable, consistent with the public interest, for some other use.”

• gave Supt. Craft permission to ask Elaine Farris, interim commissioner of the Department of Education, to grant Beckham Bates Elementary School five emergency days for water problems which have caused the Colson school to miss four days more than other schools in the district.

• waived the March 1 deadline for notifying school councils of staffing allocations and related procedures for the current school year, extending it to May 1.

• cut the number of librarian positions at Letcher County Central High School to one librarian and one instructional assistant. Previous board policy provided for two librarians at the school.

The board will hold its regular monthly meeting on March 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Letcher County School Bus Garage.

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