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Snow days, school haze

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander Molly Goldberg, 12, left, carries a red sled, and Kyla McRuer, 12, at right with a blue sled on her head, lead a group of friends along 88th Avenue S.E. to an impromptu sledding hill at the St. Monica School playfield on Mercer Island Thursday. The latest cancelled school days, combined with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, gave students a six day break from school. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander Molly Goldberg, 12, left, carries a red sled, and Kyla McRuer, 12, at right with a blue sled on her head, lead a group of friends along 88th Avenue S.E. to an impromptu sledding hill at the St. Monica School playfield on Mercer Island Thursday. The latest cancelled school days, combined with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, gave students a six day break from school.
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They won’t admit to being bored, but students in the Mercer Island School District have missed so much school this winter that on Tuesday, they were actually looking forward to returning. Since the weather days started in late November, students had been to school 18 out of the last 50 days as of yesterday.

“I was sort of hoping we would have school today, just because it’s been such a long time since we’ve had any school, but I haven’t gotten bored yet,” said MIHS senior Alexandre Puttick.

Last week, Superintendent Cyndy Simms called for snow days on Thursday and Friday before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday because of snow and ice. On Tuesday a thick blanket of snow again covered Mercer Island.

Elementary and middle school students had missed eight days of school and high school students seven as of Reporter deadline on Tuesday morning.

School board member Pat Braman said she doesn’t remember any school year when students missed this many days for weather. She recalled getting heavy snow in the late 1940s and in 1969, but even then students did not miss seven school days, she said.

“We had power outages in the 80s that were connected to the snow, but it didn’t go on and on and on like this,” Braman said. “The triple threat, (snow, power outages and flooding), I don’t ever remember before.”

Seniors have been wondering whether they’ll have to return to school after graduation.

Parents wonder whether to reschedule or cancel Midwinter Break, Spring Break or summer vacations.

The School Board and Mercer Island Education Association (the teachers union) were scheduled to discuss a proposal for making up the missed days, but because the School Board meeting was canceled due to the weather last Thursday evening, did not. They discussed it in an executive session Tuesday, but had not taken action by Reporter deadline. Simms would not reveal details.

The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction was expected to push a bill through the Legislature to allow schools to request a waiver for some days missed since Gov. Christine Gregoire made an emergency declaration for Western Washington counties, according to a story in the Seattle Times.

Simms said she wasn’t sure whether the district would apply for any waivers, but a top factor in the decision-making process is her hope that seniors will not be required to return to school after graduation, scheduled for June 14, in order to attend 175 days of school this year. The school schedule included an extra two days in case of weather or other dismissal days, leaving seniors with four to make up.

“What law would say (now) is they would have to come back after graduation or find some other way to make up those four days,” Simms said. “Apparently in the early 90s there was a situation where students had to come back after graduation and it was a very difficult situation.”

Braman said the Mercer Island School District might make plans similar to those in the Renton School District, which has proposed adding the days to the end of the school year.

“Renton tacked all their days on to the end of the school year,” Braman said. “If they should ask for forgiveness (through OSPI), I assume they would roll them back. If that’s our proposal, and I don’t know if it is, that’s probably what we would do too.”

Last week, Simms said the main factor in canceling school was that most of the staff lives off the Island and would not have been able to safely arrive. She made decisions on Wednesday and Thursday night to cancel school the following days. She was also concerned about ice on ramps to portable classrooms and in parking lots.

“We wait (to decide) unless it’s obvious,” Simms said. “Boy it was obvious on Wednesday by 11:30 at night that we couldn’t open on Thursday. Then the cold set in and it became obvious that it wasn’t going to warm up overnight last night and that the challenges facing staff members to get here and facing our on-campus parking areas and ramps weren’t going to get any better whether we made the decision at 4:00 in the morning (Friday) or 9:00 at night.”

She said parents’ opinions about when to make up the days span a wide range depending on their specific concerns.

“I hear: ‘Gosh, they’ve already made their reservations for mid-winter break and spring break, and so please please please if we have to make them up tack them on at the end of the year.’ Then I hear from other people they’ve already made plans for the end of the year... Some people would prefer to have us make up on Saturdays or Sundays. Other people are very uncomfortable with making it up Saturday or Sunday for religious reasons.”

Community Events, April 2014

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