State to allow waiver on number of instructional days required

Published 8:08 am Wednesday, March 4, 2015

In the wake of a series of winter storms that swept across the state, the Tennessee commissioner of education has announced that school systems may apply for a waiver of the number of required instructional days.

“Many school districts have reached out to inquire about relief from the statutory requirement of 180 days of student instruction,” Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in an email to school system directors. “Pursuant to Tennessee law, the commissioner of education may waive the 180-day instructional requirement in very limited cases, including ‘natural disasters.’ ”

On Feb. 21, Gov. Bill Haslam declared a Level 2 State of Emergency, denoting a major disaster, due to the extreme weather conditions throughout the state.

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“Because of the unique and rare circumstances of our recent weather and the impact on school districts throughout the state, and because of the Level 2 State of Emergency declaration, we will be accepting requests to waive a maximum number of three instructional days,” McQueen said.

Petitions for waivers will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, McQueen said. Each school system submitting a request must include documentation of the following: the specific circumstances leading to the request; the number of stockpiled days designated in the district’s calendar and the use of these stockpiled days; and the inability of the district to make up the instructional days.

The deadline for school districts to apply for a waiver is March 31.

Carter County Schools had 10 “snow days” built into the school calendar. All of those days have been used.

“We’ve missed a total of 16 days,” Carter County Director of Schools Kevin Ward said, adding the system had already contacted the state’s department of education about changes to the calendar, Ward said.

To make up the six additional missed days, Ward said the system had canceled two scheduled professional development days for staff and turned those into regular school days. One of those was Tuesday and the other will be on May 20.

The school system has also canceled four of the five days that had been designated as spring break for the students. Students now will be in attendance on March 30 and 31 as well as April 1 and 2. “We’re going to leave Good Friday as a day off,” Ward said. “Taking those two PD days and the four spring break days makes us even.”

Winter isn’t over, however. In fact, forecasters are calling for the possibility of snow Thursday.

“Since we’ve got until March 31 to file for the waiver, we’re not going to do the petition immediately,” Ward said. “We are going to see what the weather holds.”

Having the deadline at the end of this month will allow the school system to have a better idea of whether the waiver will be needed before the system applies for it, Ward said. If the forecast for this week holds true, though, “there is a good chance we will request the waiver,” he said.