In the past four decades, the Janesville School District has never recorded more than four snow days.
Until this year.
The district, like most others in Rock and Walworth counties, has racked up six snow days as of Thursday--and winter isn't over yet.
While kids might celebrate the break from classes, school officials wonder how they will make up the time.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requires students in kindergarten through sixth grade to get 1,050 hours of instruction. Students in seventh through 12th grade must have 1,137 hours of instruction.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz gave school districts permission to waive the instructional hours rule. However, in Wisconsin, the governor does not have the authority to do that, Deputy State Superintendent Mike Thompson said.
In a Feb. 1 email, Thompson wrote that state law allows a school board to request a waiver from the instructional hours requirement from the DPI after a public hearing in the school district.
“Historically, the department has not waived the hours and minutes requirement through this process,” Thompson wrote. “We have in the past waived the 180-day requirement (this is no longer a requirement in statute), but never the associated hours and minutes.”
In addition, the DPI doesn’t anticipate approving any waivers because “districts do have the local flexibility to determine the means by which they meet the hours and minutes standard,” Thompson wrote.
Janesville Superintendent Steve Pophal said he plans to meet with staff Friday morning to “scour our calendars” to find the extra school time.
The district already has two built-in snow days, and it already provides more instructional hours than required by state law. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade get up to 40 more hours of instruction than the state requirement. Middle and high school students get between 25 and 35 more hours.
Adding minutes before or after the school day typically doesn't work, and neither does adding days to the end of the school year, Pophal said.
Those moves don’t yield "good instructional outcomes,” he said.
For the first-grader learning to read, a couple of extra minutes here and there aren’t useful, he said. For high school students taking Advanced Placement or college-credit classes, adding days at the end of the year doesn’t help because their exams are in mid-May.
Instead, Pophal and his staff will consider “professional development days.”
Those are days when the district brings in speakers on particular topics for teachers. In the past, teachers usually did professional development on their own time, but Pophal has tried to offer such opportunities directly to teachers. The goal is to have all teachers working on a particular topic or area of improvement.
One option under consideration is to move the development days to the end of the school year. Such a plan would require buy-in from teachers, and the speakers must be willing to reschedule.