DeSoto County Schools (DCS) board members Thursday afternoon approved a revised school calendar for the rest of the 2017-18 school year, an action parents have been anxious in learning to plan for the rest of the year.
The revisions in this year's calendar were needed due to the lost time from last month's snow and ice storm that put the district in danger of having to extend the school year to reach the state-mandated 180-day requirement for a school year. The district was also facing the possibility of having to hold classes on Saturdays to make up the lost time.
The snow and ice forced cancellation of classes on Friday, Jan. 12 and from Tuesday-Friday, Jan. 16-19, taxing the five snow days built each year into the calendar that are days off from school, unless needed due to cancellations.
What made the moves possible for the DeSoto County School District to act involved the State of Emergency declaration by Gov. Phil Bryant for the affected counties during the week of Jan. 15, a district policy in place that gives Supt. Cory Uselton the power to close schools without board approval, and Attorney General Jim Hood's 2015 opinion that allows a waiver when the other factors are in place.
The district received a similar waiver after weather closings challenged the school calendar under former Supt. Milton Kuykendall in 2015. The storm caused state Supt. of Education Dr. Carey Wright to ask Hood for the opinion that affects this decision.
The state Dept. of Education board next meets in mid-February and told individual districts they would consider waiver requests for districts that did not have policies allowing their superintendents to close schools without board approval. Since DCS has that policy, state officials have advised DCS it could act once legal representation had reviewed the policy since the Attorney General's 2015 action allows the revisions after Bryant declared the state of emergency.
Board attorney Jim Keith, noting on two of those days every school district in the state was out due to weather, called the decision a good one for students, teachers and staff.
"If you have to make up those days, it puts a tremendous hardship on your staff and your students," Keith said. "Now, you're trying to cram five more days into the schedule for the rest of the year. It was the Attorney's General opinion that really establishes this."
Parents were sent the information about the revised calendar by email Thursday afternoon after the board approval.
The approved revisions mean classes will be in session on Friday, Feb. 16, originally selected as a make up day.
However, Monday, Feb. 19 is a day off from school, although it will be a staff development day.
Good Friday on March 30 and Monday, Apr. 2, the day after Easter, will return to being student and employee holidays. The students' last day of school is May 23 and the final day for teachers is May 25, as it was originally on the calendar.
Uselton cautioned that the designations for Feb. 19, March 30, April 2 and the May dates should be considered tentative, however, since bad weather could force schools to be closed again and the dates needed to make up those closures.
May 24 and 25 returned to being tentative make up days that would also be used, if needed.
Uselton thanked those, from legislators to parents, who contacted Gov. Bryant, because without his declaration, no action other than making up the lost days any way possible would have happened.
"Without the state of emergency, we would have been forced to consider the possibility of having school on Saturday," Uselton said. "We know that families make plans based on our calendar and we didn't want to cause an inconvenience by adding on days that have been excused."
Uselton said parents should remember that February looms ahead with weather threats that would demand the district use the make up days now in the revised calendar.
"There is a concern we could experience more winter weather," said Uselton. "Because of this relief, we still have available make-up days built into our calendar."
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.