Snow daze: Who let the kids out?

"Our staffs really pulled through," says Tom Smith, superintendent of Fluvanna County Schools. Maintenance and bus crews made a "tremendous effort" to get schools open after the snow, he adds.

Fluvanna County bravely bucked the trend that infected other area school systems by actually opening its doors (albeit two hours late) on Thursday, February 20.

One day later, most of the other area systems– with the conspicuous exception of Nelson– opened their doors. In the meantime, parents were left scratching their heads about why their education-loving urchins (and all the rest of the students) were locked out.

Anne Breeden, an Albemarle County administrator who fielded calls from many angry county parents, points out that while many subdivisions have their own plows, asphalt and gravel didn't emerge quickly on every street. Moreover, Breeden says, many cul de sacs weren't plowed sufficiently to allow buses to turn around.

"Albemarle County covers 743 square miles," says Breeden. "We cannot just look at one busload or one subdivision."

Even Charlottesville, whose major streets appeared to have been quickly plowed, had such dense sleet that officials feared that kids wouldn't have safe places to stand while waiting to board buses.

Buses are no concern for St. Anne's-Belfield, a two-campus private school whose students must arrange their own transportation. After the big snow, St. Anne's reopened on Wednesday, February 19– two hours late, but still a day earlier than most public systems.

"We don't have any plans to do make-up days," says Mike Waylett of St. Anne's. Instead, says Waylett, St. Anne's sent home "snow packets" in November. Like rations for hungry hikers, the "snow packets" include lessons for education-starved students: in case of two-day cancellation, open your packet and get to work.

One vexation for public schools is that state law requires 180 instructional days each year.

Charlottesville has already used three teacher workdays to begin making up its seven missed instructional days, says administrator W.T. Lewis. How about spring break? "It would be out of tradition," Lewis answers, "to fool with spring break." Charlottesville students could therefore potentially be in class as late as June 11.

But pity Albemarle. Having canceled school nine times so far, it hasn't yet hit the magic number of 10. Under state law, when a school system misses that many days, five are instantly forgiven. Might Albemarle consider canceling one more day to gain a little breathing room?

"I don't know," says a laughing Breeden. "But I'll pass your suggestion on."

State education spokesperson Charles Pyle says he's never heard of a school system intentionally trying to hit the magic 10-day mark. "I doubt seriously," says Pyle, "that any superintendent would do that."

If the storm system brewing over our area at press time develops into snow or ice, Albemarle superintendent Kevin Castner may get his lucky break.


BUZZBOX- Missing U: Missed days so far this year

Charlottesville: 7

Albemarle: 9

Greene: 11

Nelson: 16

Fluvanna: 11

St. Anne's-Belfield: 5

UVA: 1


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