For schoolchildren, nothing is more thrilling than a snow day, and this winter came through big.
But now, the bill is coming due.
Caught in a scheduling bind after a harsh winter, public schools are trying to squeeze in make-up days wherever they can by stretching the year further into June and in several cases holding classes on Good Friday.
In Andover, where school has been canceled six times because of inclement weather, students and teachers are scheduled to meet for a half-day next Friday, as are their counterparts in Brockton. School officials in Watertown have followed suit, and the school board in Hopkinton was scheduled to consider a Good Friday school day.
State regulations call for students to attend school for 180 days, and districts typically allow for five snow days in their calendars. But in a school year that brought an epic hurricane and blizzard to Massachusetts, not to mention a late-
winter blast earlier this month, many have run through their reserve.
As a result, schools must make up the time by tacking on days in late June, holding school on a Saturday, cutting into April vacation, or canceling a religious holiday.
“None of them seem to be popular,” said Nancy Alvarez Burdick, chairwoman of the Hopkinton School Committee.
Tom Scott, who directs the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said school officials are wise to wedge in the extra days in the spring, before the weather gets too warm and minds turn to vacation. “Late June is really undesirable,” he said. “Those aren’t good learning situations.”
Many schools do not have air-conditioning, he said, making it harder for students to concentrate. Teacher contracts often require that the school year end by a certain date.
Following stormy winters, schools that have maxed out snow days will often schedule half-days on Good Friday, a return to school schedules from years gone by, Scott said.
But such moves are measures of last resort. Schools will first try to cancel days assigned for professional development or parent-teacher conferences before taking back holidays or trimming vacation.
“The last thing you want to do is start playing with people’s lives by moving the calendar around,” Scott said. “But people are basically scrambling.”
With the frequency of severe winters, schools should consider creating calendars with more leeway for cancellations, he said. But substantial shifts, such as starting school before Labor Day, would surely meet resistance, he acknowledged.
“Tradition is such a powerful thing,” he said.
Schools are required to accommodate students who miss school for religious observances, and officials said students who stay home on Good Friday will not be marked absent. Good Friday is a Christian holiday preceding Easter.
In Andover, Superintendent Marinel McGrath informed parents last week that school would be held on Good Friday, “provided we have a sufficient number of teachers on that day to hold school.”
“Parents who have already made plans for that day may choose to keep their children home,” McGrath wrote.
This month’s snowstorm closed school for the fifth and sixth time this school year, forcing the search for an open day.
“I know that it is not optimal, but under the circumstances, we believe this is the most viable option,” McGrath wrote.
The impact of Hurricane Sandy, particularly in towns south of Boston, forced many schools to cancel classes even before winter began.
In Brockton, the two days lost to the fall superstorm mean students will be in class on Good Friday. “It was either Good Friday or April vacation,” said Jocelyn Meek, a spokeswoman for Brockton schools.
Brockton also closed schools for the November election, because many served as polling places.
Boston has canceled classes only five times so far this school year, within the school calendar’s cushion, so no more school days will be added unless another storm arrives.
While students are cherishing the bonus days they may get off in the winter, they should keep in mind that classes have to be made up at some point, often when they are desperate for summer to begin.
At least in theory.
“Every day that goes on [into June], the attendance goes down,” said Gary Maestas, the superintendent in Plymouth.