Making up a week of snow days is no easy task for Hall County Schools. And the decision of just how to do it has drawn mixed reactions from the community.
The school board voted Monday to extend the school day by one hour for 12 days following spring break.
The decision came two weeks after a snowstorm shut down much of North Georgia for days.
A gainesvilletimes.com story about the vote garnered more than 100 comments.
Some complained the extra hour would be a burden on students with no real educational gain. Others said it was the best decision given the circumstances.
"I have no problem with the solution to add an extended hour to the day rather than add extra days to the end of the year or go on a Saturday," local resident Allison Ellis wrote Tuesday in an e-mail to The Times. "I think in the long run it will save the county money in a time when the current budget is already tight. The most important thing we need to worry about is children getting educated and not extracurricular activities."
Other parents wondered what effects the change could have on special needs and young children.
Ann Kidd Finley commented on The Times' Facebook page that the plan lacked consideration for some students.
"Almost seven hours is already a long day for kids with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), autism and those who require additional meds and tube feedings right after school," Finley wrote. "It would make more sense to just add some days on in May."
The school board considered that option among others.
To make up one of the days, the school board voted to restore a furlough day, Feb. 21. To make up another day, the board is counting Feb. 18 as a snow makeup day; that day had been a furlough day that was restored in September after additional funding was secured.
Between those days and the extra hours, four days were made up of a total six that were missed, including a Dec. 16 snow day. The state allows districts to miss four days a year due to snow.
"Even though we only had four days, we wanted to make up the lost instructional time," said Eloise Barron, Hall County assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
To help with the decision, the board looked at results of a survey released to parents and staff about when to make up the days.
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said the numbers didn't shift much from early results released last week.
School on Saturday was voted the least popular choice, and about half the parents backed a decision to lengthen the school day while about half were opposed. When it came to extending the school year, 57 percent of staff and 49 percent of parents supported the choice.
The school board spent more than a week weighing the options before voting to extend the school day.
"I took this decision seriously and deliberately," school board member Nath Morris said. "I reviewed the more than 85 pages of feedback offered from teachers and parents, which was actually more beneficial than the summary of the survey."
"In the end, I felt that we should look at what were the best makeup scenarios for meaningful instruction for our students at all grade levels, with the least amount of disruption for our teachers and families."
Students will be in school the extra hour between April 11 and April 26. At the high school level, nine minutes will be added to each period.
Though it's a short period of time, the change could have quite an impact.
High school athletic directors said coaches likely will create more flexible practice schedules during those 12 days.
"If we have to shorten practice, we will do that," West Hall High School athletic director Scott Justus said. "Instruction time is the most important and we'll adjust."
Chestatee High School Athletic Director Chip Underwood agreed.
"For coaches, their job is to adjust on the fly," Underwood said. "They are very good about handling those adjustments and making it work best for kids."
Schofield said varsity games won't be impacted by the change.
Some of the schedule's effects — such as what likely will be more traffic at rush hour — are still being discussed.
Barron said she isn't aware of any talks about the issue yet, but buses will run those days.
After all the reaction from the community, Schofield emphasized that the driving factor behind the decision was to make up lost instructional time.
"We asked the question and looked at our options and chose what we believe is the best possible option," he said.
Gainesville City Schools will look at options for makeup days at a special meeting Friday. Extending the school day is one possibility.