The Letcher County Board of Education voted this week to require six schools whose students have already missed more than two days of classes this school year to be in session during two days of Christmas break.
At its November meeting this week, the school board approved a motion by Board Member Mike Harris requiring schools that have missed more than two days to hold classes on Dec. 21 and Dec. 22. The decision affects Beckham Bates, Cowan, Letcher, Martha Jane Potter, and West Whitesburg Elementary schools and Whitesburg Middle School.
“It seems like it makes sense that it would be a good opportunity to get some good instructional time in,” said Board Member Dr. Sam Quillen Jr.
Letcher County Central High School and Arlie Boggs and Fleming-Neon Elementary schools will not be required to be in session on those two days in December. The board could have amended the calendar so that all schools would be in session on those designated “makeup days.”
“We could take some of these days, none of these days or all of these days,” said Board Chairman Will Smith.
Regina Brown, president of the Letcher County Teachers Organization (LCTO), told the board that schools whose students missed more days than others should have the opportunity to make up those days in order to catch up with other schools in the district. Harris and other board members liked Brown’s idea.
MJP has missed six days of school, while CES has missed five. LES and WMS have both missed four days of school. WWES has been closed for three days and BBES has missed two days.
All schools in the district were closed Oct. 30 and Nov. 2 because of flu-like symptoms and other illnesses.
Kenny Cornett, director of pupil personnel, said school staff voted on the school calendar option that had specific days listed as possible makeup days.
“These were in the calendar,” said Quillen. “These were days that people knew were possibilities.”
Cornett said having school on makeup days is necessary to get as many instructional days in as possible before the testing window begins in the spring.
Harris’s motion also requires all schools in the district to be in session on Presidents’ Day (Feb. 16).
“Presidents’ Day is before testing so that gives us three days for all of these schools to make up days,” said Harris.
The board will wait until its February meeting to decide whether or not to hold classes for at three days of spring break, which is set for April 5 through April 9.
“Last year we had a similar situation to this and waited prior to spring break and people had plans,” said Board Member John Spicer.
Brown said teachers know that spring break days could be changed to instructional days.
“They are aware that if they make plans they are making them in jeopardy,” said Brown.
Cornett is concerned about missing more days, not only because of illnesses but also because of bad weather.
“We are trying to preplan for poor weather during wintertime,” said Cornett. “The attendance reports for the last two months were consistently less than 90 percent and still have some isolated schools that are pretty low. The health department is anticipating this to be an ongoing problem.”
Spicer said he saw a representative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say on television that February is going to be the worst month for people getting the swine flu.
Board members are eager to see how their plans play out.
“Looking outside the whole thing, it makes sense to me,” said Quillen. “I think this will work well.”
“The proof will be in the pudding,” said Harris.
Supt. Anna Craft and Board Member Terry Cornett did not attend the meeting.