Spring break or Saturday? CMS forces tough choices by closing Thursday

With school closed Thursday and forecasts hinting that Friday could be off, too, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials say they’ll consider Saturday makeup days as an alternative to a shortened spring break.

An unusually harsh winter has left school leaders looking at a menu of unpopular options. The calendar approved in advance says Thursday’s makeup will be April 14, the Monday of spring break. If classes are canceled Friday, April 15 would be the makeup day.

As soon as Thursday’s cancellation was announced, the CMS Facebook page lit up with parents protesting the loss of spring break and suggesting alternatives such as Saturdays, Memorial Day and added days at the end of the year.

Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark says the staff will explore options and see whether the board wants to revise the calendar. Holding school during spring break could interfere with vacation plans for students and staff, but some essential employees work other jobs on Saturday, Clark said.

“I think we would have low attendance on any makeup day that fell on a holiday, spring break or Saturday,” Clark said.

Melissa Schropp, who has three children in CMS, agrees.

“We’ve already made spring break plans and put a nonrefundable deposit down on a rental, so my kids will not be making up those days,” she said.

“I don’t like either option,” said CMS parent Laura Hankins. “But probably going to school during the week is less disruptive.”

Pam Lilley, media specialist at Cornelius Elementary, said the district can’t win on makeup days.

“Teachers and families have made spring break plans,” she said. “But I’m willing to guess teachers, families, bus drivers and cafeteria workers all have Saturday plans as well.”

Thursday will be the fourth day lost to snow this year, with the winter-weather season far from over. CMS has tried to avoid closings through delayed openings (three so far) and early dismissals (two days). Nearby districts have used similar options.

The changes and makeup days are creating stress for school employees and families. Some hourly employees will see paychecks shrink because of the closings, though the hours will be made up later. Work days that teachers would have used for handling grades, lesson plans and required training are now being turned into makeup days for students.

Jennifer Losen, who has three children in CMS, said she’d prefer adding the days to the end of the year or using Memorial Day as a makeup – a move that has been controversial in past years – to losing spring break days or Saturdays. The last scheduled day of school for CMS is Tuesday, June 10. The state calendar law requires that the year end “no later than the Friday closest to June 11.”

“I cannot believe they haven’t even built in one or two snow days,” Losen said.

CMS board Chair Mary McCray, a longtime teacher before she retired and ran for school board, said Saturday makeups can create child-care struggles for employees. She said she’d like to see state officials declare an emergency and forgive the days. That’s not likely this year, she said, but the district plans to push for that option to be approved for future years.

Any weather-related decision spurs controversy. CMS decided Tuesday to cancel Wednesday’s classes, based on forecasts saying there would be a small snowfall Tuesday and a much bigger one Wednesday.

“To wake up and see no snow was hard,” Clark said. “People were going to wake up and sort of scratch their head.”

But my midday Wednesday, snow was falling fast and roads had gotten hazardous, just as the forecast had said. CMS decided to pull the plug on Thursday classes shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Clark said if snow continues to fall for most of Thursday, as predicted, it could be difficult to have roads clear for Friday. McCray agreed: “The way it’s looking, I doubt if we’ll get to school any more this week.”

This winter has brought the most weather disruption in recent years, with a record cold snap in early January followed by two snows that landed on school days.

Students will attend school Monday and Tuesday, which had been scheduled as teacher work days, to make up for closings Jan. 29 and 30. Wednesday’s closing will be made up on March 31, also a scheduled work day.

The CMS calendar, which is approved two years in advance, always lists possible makeup days. Three possible dates had already passed by the time snow hit Charlotte. The three remaining days are also in the week of spring break.

“I’m not sure we can confidently say that we’re through with inclement weather,” Clark added.

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