We’re less than a month into the school year, and already Lowcountry schools have burned through the three makeup days that S.C. law requires them to build into their schedule and still have a fourth missed day to deal with.
If past is prologue, they’ll probably opt to “forgive” that day — along with any additional days students miss between now and June due to hurricanes or snow (or threats of snow) or other interruptions in the normal schedule. They shouldn’t; they should instead demonstrate their commitment to education by requiring students to make up all missed days, either by adding Saturday classes or extending the school day by a few hours.
It’s not the fault of school officials that students missed four days of classes last week; they had no choice but to close when Gov. Henry McMaster ordered an evacuation of coastal counties in anticipation of Hurricane Dorian. But it is their fault if students get cheated out of all 180 days of education that state law promises them.
It’s also the fault of the Legislature, which allows school districts to ignore three missed days after those first three are made up. And the fault of the state Education Department, which can let them ignore three more days, and routinely does so.
After three or four days of missed school, it's up to local school districts to decide if and how their students will make up lost class time.
As The Post and Courier’s Jenna Schiferl reports, school districts statewide waived 96 missed days last year, and the Education Department waived another 17.
The Education Department is running a pilot program this year to test online makeup days; Berkeley County schools is one of 10 districts participating. In districts that already provide computers to all students, it’s a smart way to help cash-strapped schools save money. But it doesn’t solve the bigger problem of cheating kids of the education we’ve promised them, because those online makeup days simply take the place of in-person makeup days; they don’t eliminate local and state decisions to just cancel additional missed classes.
The idea behind requiring school districts to build three snow days into their schedules was a good one. It just doesn’t go far enough — particularly here on the coast. We need to recognize that a hurricane evacuation is going to take up at least four days, and sometimes more, and that a year without an evacuation is becoming the exception, not the rule. That means school districts need to start building more than just three makeup days into their calendars.
It also means the Legislature needs to mandate that or else give schools more options for making sure they provide an entire year’s worth of instruction, regardless of the weather.
District spokesperson Katie Tanner emphasized that missed school work is not made up during the storm. Instead, students will work from home on designated instructional makeup days.
One reason we’re not getting the results we need from our schools is that we don’t value education enough. If school officials did, they’d insist on making up all missed days, not just the three mandated by law. If parents did, they’d demand the same, rather than pitching a fit when school officials use those makeup days as required by law — let alone hold classes on Saturday, or tack a few days onto the end of the year, or a few hours onto the end of the day, as state law allows but schools are too rarely willing to do.
Maybe we don’t need a 180-day school year, but if that’s the case, we need to change the law — not allow school officials to simply ignore it whenever we have big storms or the threat of snow.