Snow days may soon take toll on school schedules

MARQUETTE – Extreme cold and heavy snowfall kept many area students out of the classroom for several days between December and January.

And though they may have been thanking Heikki Lunta then, they’ll likely be disappointed come summertime.

“We are permitted to have six days – or hour equivalents – that are permitted, forgiven, by the Department of Education,” said Ishpeming Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Piereson. “In excess of that, then we have to start making up days and hours. We’ve used six. Any additional days for Ishpeming means we will have to start doing that.”

Many districts in Marquette and Alger counties are on the cusp as well, having used their six snow days well before the Upper Peninsula’s winter season is finished.

Piereson said those six days of canceled school were caused by heavy snowfall, freezing rain and extremely cold temperatures. And when it comes to canceling school, Piereson said one thought is always prevalent – student safety.

“The primary item is student safety,” Piereson said. “That is what this revolves around. We have a lot of students who walk to school. Can students walk to school safely? We transport students by bus. Can buses operate safely? That’s the consideration this is driven off from -student safety.”

Piereson said schools can make up the extra time off – should they need to – in a variety of ways.

In Michigan schools are required to have a minimum of 1,098 instructional hours per school year. They are also required to have a minimum of 170 days of school, but not less than the days spent in school in the 2009-2010 school year.

“So, if we had 175 days in 2009-2010, that would be our minimum,” Piereson said.

If schools can’t measure up to either of those metrics,

because they go over the six days that are forgiven by the state’s education department, then they must begin making up the time.

How they do that, Piereson said, is dependent on the contracts they have in place with district employees.

“In our (teacher) bargaining contract … we start doing make ups on June 3rd – we have this written into our calendar with our teacher bargaining unit,” Piereson said. “June 3rd is our records day. If need that to start with, we have one half-day built in as a make up. If we have to go beyond that, we start on June 3rd.”

Schools can add extra days onto the end of the year to make up the time or they can simply extend the school day for another hour or so.

“It is possible for us to negotiate also with the teachers’ bargaining unit to pick up additional minutes during the day,” Piereson said. “Our contract says, commencing June 3rd, but we could work out an arrangement to add additional minutes during the day.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is