EVERETT — As the sunshine outside hinted at summer, thousands of students across Snohomish County spent extra days in the classroom to offset time missed from winter snow.
On Wednesday, classes ended in the Edmonds School District — the only remaining community in the county still in session — five days after it was originally scheduled to dismiss students for summer break.
“This is the first time in many years that we have had this many days to make up,” said Debby Carter, executive director of human resources for the Edmonds School District, via email.
Even so, the school year could have been extended much longer, even into July in one district, without permission from the state to waive some instructional days.
Edmonds, like every school district in Washington, is required by state law to provide at least 180 school days and an average of 1,027 instructional hours to its students.
Since Gov. Jay Inslee declared February’s adverse weather a state of emergency, school districts could apply for waivers with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to get relief from the 180-day requirements so long as they found ways to meet the 1,027-hour requirement.
Even with most districts having snow makeup days built into their calendars, February’s historic snowfall forced many to add extra days beyond the scheduled end of the school year.
With as many as seven days to make up, Snohomish County school districts jumped at the waiver opportunity.
“We have always made up the time,” Carter said. “With the governor’s emergency declaration, we thoughtfully processed this decision and felt that one day at the end of the school year would not substantially affect student education.”
Everett, Edmonds, Granite Falls, Lake Stevens, Lakewood, Marysville, Monroe, Mukilteo, Northshore, Stanwood-Camano and Sultan school districts each waived at least one day of class canceled by snow. In all, they were allowed to waive nearly 30 days of instruction, according to state records.
The Darrington and Arlington school districts were exceptions, choosing not to apply for the state’s waiver.
“While the state did provide an option to waive certain days, protecting student instructional time is a priority,” Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Chrys Sweeting said in a March press release. “The (school) board felt it was important not to use the waivers since snow makeup days are already published in our student calendar.”
Often, school district leaders will seek consultation from their peers across the county, but ultimately they must decide the best recourse for the needs of the community.
Superintendent Buck Marsh had the concerns of both the students and non-teaching staff in mind when Darrington decided not to request a waiver.
“The reasons were, first and foremost, to give our students a full 180 days of instruction and the second also very important reason was that over half of our workforce is made up of hourly employees and to waive those days would result in them not receiving pay,” he said.
Marsh said Darrington’s decision was not as difficult as others being made across the county because the district had only three days of class to remedy.
Stanwood-Camano School District, on the other hand, had already extended its year by four days due to a teachers’ strike and had another seven days to account for due to snow.
Without the four waiver days granted, school in Stanwood would have extended into July. That would not be unprecedented. During the state record 49-day teachers strike during the 2003-2004 school year, classes went into mid-July and high school graduation didn’t occur until July 7.
“We wanted to lessen the impact on our students and families,” Maurene Stanton, Stanwood-Camano’s executive director of human resources, said via email.
The district made up time in other ways, extending days scheduled to be early release or late start.
In Mukilteo, there were seven days to make up because of the snow. That meant getting two waiver days and extending the last day of school a week, from June 18 to June 25.
School district spokesman Andy Muntz said student safety was the overriding priority even if it meant the potential inconvenience of adding days to the end of the school year.
Even when roads were cleared of snow they could be icy, and snow removed from the streets was piled onto nearby sidewalks.
“The sidewalks were impassable,” he said. “There was really no place for kids to stand when waiting for the school bus.”
Everett received one waiver day and made up for lost instructional time in other ways, said Superintendent Gary Cohn. That included holding class during what would have been non-student planning time allotted to teachers on Friday learning improvement days.
Eric Stevick contributed to this story.