HANNIBAL — Following a recent flurry of snow days the school year in Hannibal will now extend into early June.
According to Susan Johnson, superintendent of the Hannibal School District, a total of 10 days of school have been canceled thus far because of snow or ice. In recent years only three to four days have been lost due to inclement weather during any given winter.
Hannibal will receive credit for being in session for five of the 10 days because it has submitted an Alternative Method of Instruction Plan to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“Basically what all that means is that of those 10 days during five of those days we did teach kids remotely. For the first five inclement weather days kids learned from home and teachers taught from home through Zoom and Google Classroom,” Johnson said.
Because of the Hannibal School District’s ability to teach youngsters remotely, Johnson is frequently asked by parents why distance learning is not utilized on any day that students would otherwise be out of school.
“I would love to be able to do that, but the law only permits 36 hours or five days, so obviously we have utilized those already. We have restrictions on how many of those days we can use. This is true for any school district,” Johnson said.
The remaining snow days will have to be made up.
“Our school year originally was going to end on May 28. On our (school district) calendar we had makeup days as we are required to do on the first four days in June,” Johnson said. “Now instead of May 28 being our last day, our last day will be June 4, and that day will be a half day.”
Johnson stressed that even if there are additional snow days the school district will not have to make them up.
“Now that we have taken 10 days any days beyond that we would have to take for inclement weather, those days would be forgiven by the state so we would not have to make those up,” she said.
Other school districts are facing similar problems.
Thursday marked the ninth snow day of the year for the Palmyra R-I School District and the Ralls County R-II School District.
Dr. Tara Lewis, Ralls County R-II superintendent, said the district had enough hours built-in to cover the previous seven snow days, without having to make them up, extend the school year or schedule a virtual learning day.
To make up for the eighth day, students will attend school the entire day Thursday, May 20, followed by an early release at 12:40 p.m. on Friday, May 21.
Lewis commended road crews for their constant work to clear roadways. The series of days of frigid temperatures combined with the snow-packed roads have led to “lots of different factors”, including children waiting for their bus in the bitter cold and the way the diesel fuel reacts and how the buses operate.
A water line between school buildings burst on Tuesday, and Lewis said crews are working to repair the damage.
“I think in Missouri, we expect to have some days like this. Now we’re in the tenth, the eleventh, the twelfth day of sub-zero temperatures – that’s the challenge,” Lewis said.
Palmyra R-I School District also was closed for its eighth snow day on Wednesday. Superintendent Kirt Malone said students are required to be in session at least 1,044 hours each school year. For the past couple of years, school officials have set up a calendar with 1,104 hours or more, meeting Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines so no snow days have been made up.
Malone agreed with Lewis there are multiple safety issues when snow-packed roads and bitter cold come together. Bus drivers face additional risk getting students to school when the roads are slick. Students walking to school may encounter icy sidewalks, posing a safety hazard if they walk in the roads along with traffic negotiating the slippery conditions.
Malone also said some high school students come to school in shorts and a hoodie, even when the temperatures are extremely cold. In the event of a slide-off, those students are not dressed for the conditions.
“I’m just ready for the snow to stop,” Dr. Aaron Vitt, the superintendent of the Paris RII School District, said on Thursday.
As with all superintendents in Northeast Missouri, Vitt has been forced to cancel school several times over the last two weeks as ice and snow have combined to create an unsafe mess on area roadways.
Combined with school shutdowns because of COVID-19, along with quarantines for teachers, students and entire sports teams, the 2020-21 school year is presenting unimagined challenges.
But even with the snow days, the Paris district is fortunate. There have been no COVID shutdowns and because the district has 11.5 snow days baked into the schedule, school is still set to end on May 19.
Vitt said the decision to cancel school is not taken lightly by administrators.
“We balance accumulating the most recent and accurate information with the timeliness of communicating with our students, staff, and parents. Weather conditions can change and we work to be as accurate as possible in our decision making,” Vitt said. “We take into account safe travel conditions for our buses, students, and staff. This entails driving the main roads as well as the blacktop and gravel roads in the district.”
Vitt said he reviews National Weather Service reports and analyzes forecasts from three different resources. The analysis is based on a likelihood of a weather occurrence.
“Cold temperatures also factor into the decision-making process,” he said. “The National Weather Service has created a chart which illustrates frostbite zones based on duration of exposure. This chart provides guidance in regards to the severity of cold temperatures.”
Danny Henley, Trevor McDonald and Forrest Gossett contributed to this report.