By Cindy M. Cranmer
Parents continue to question when Rockford Public Schools will end their school year so The Rockford Squire spoke to Dr. Michael Shibler, superintendent of schools for the Rockford School District, to get answers.
As of press time on Monday, Feb. 25 with the cancelation on Monday, the school district’s last day will be Friday, June 14, 2019.
Shibler explained the district is allowed six snow days, which really include anything from heat days to snow days to ice days to power outages. They can apply to the Michigan Department of Education for an additional three to be forgiven putting the number of approved days at nine.
The District plans to cancel the Friday before Memorial Day. This puts the number of missed days that do not need to be made up at 10 days. The additional five days school was canceled all need to be made up.
The Rockford Squire spoke to Shibler as the newspaper prepared to go to press. “The number one factor is and remains safety,” Shibler said. “This includes the safety of students on buses, safety of students driving, the safety of bus drivers, and the safety of staff.”
Shibler said the decision on whether to delay school or cancel completely is made based on evidence early in the morning, projections by the National Weather Service on whether snow will stop or the temperature warm up so salt can work, and by driving over both the country roads and those in town.
“Seldom, seldom do I call a two-hour delay,” he said. “More than likely, many times those who call a two-hour delay switch to a closing.”
The reasoning is two-hour delays often turn into cancelations as roads do not improve and it complicates it for parents going from a delay to cancelation so earlier notice gives parents more time to plan daycare. Shibler explained he makes his decisions based on his 30 years of experience in the Rockford School District. “If there is no concrete evidence things are going to improve, there is no reason to call a delay and then change,” he said. “There have been times I have been wrong.”
However, Shibler believes this is the minority of times. Road conditions can vary across the large district with a mix of street types ranging from dirt to paved to state highways. “My percent of accuracy is as good as those who call the weather on television,” he commented.
State law requires 1,098 hours of instruction. Shibler explained in the past districts could add minutes to bring the hours up. Within the last couple of years, he said, state legislation changed that to not only govern that districts have 1,098 hours of instruction but also to meet 180 days.
The only way the school district will not have to go to school the entire week of June 10 at this point is through legislation to forgive additional days. There are proposals and talk of a bill to forgive the two or three days that were declared state emergencies, but the reaction from lawmakers has been mixed. That could decrease the week of June 10 slightly but the district will be going into that week.
Shibler encouraged residents to contact lawmakers if they are in support of such a bill. “It is being considered,” he said. Shibler said some districts in the state that have missed more than 20 days so options for forgiving additional days are being discussed.
“In 51 years as an educator, 1978 was the only time I saw something like this,” Shibler said. “This is an absolutely, completely unusual school year regarding weather.”
Shibler said the district makes decisions with safety of students and staff in mind, but situations can change fast. The district also has to keep in mind that there are 14 buildings in the district and multiple areas from the city itself to back roads. Shibler gave the example of how road conditions drastically worsened from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. one recent day Rockford had school.
“The buses were already on the roads,” Shibler said. “That day the roads became awful quickly.”
“I keep my focus on the safety of the road conditions at the time of the call,” Shibler said. It is is not a decision made lightly. Transportation department officials, administrators from other school districts, the National Weather Service, and drivers going through all parts of the districts all help with making the decision on what to do.
Shibler said some people felt that a two-hour delay may have been appropriate on Feb. 25, but roads were “totally terrible” in some areas with icy roads and buses do not travel well on ice. “We rely on weather conditions when we make the call,” he said.
Shibler stated every communication has made it clear that any parents who feel concerned about safety can choose to keep their children home and it will be an excused absence.
“If weather conditions change or if parents feel unsafe, they can make the decision and the absence will be excused,” he said.
“Road conditions can radically change in a minute,” Shibler said. “As long as I know in my own heart that I have made the right decision based on safety.”
“To count for a full day, schools have to have 75 percent of students in their classroom,” Shibler said. The 75 percent applies to attendance during a regularly scheduled school year. Shibler said it is understood individuals are graduating, students are getting jobs, families have made vacation plans, and there are other challenges when the calendar extends into summer break.
The attendance requirements are lowered for the summer makeup days to 60 percent rather than 75 percent, he said. “Makeup days are 60 percent attendance.”
Shibler said he is confident that the district will be able to meet attendance requirements during the week that school will be extended.
Rockford School District has 8,000 students so 75 percent attendance means that 6,000 students need to attend, but 60 percent drops that amount to less than 5,000 students.
Shibler said he will personally respond to parents who contact him about their concerns with the weather, how the end of the school year will look for families, or for other concerns.