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Schools tackle time lost

Kirk Lalley,  Freeman School District facilities manager,  clears parking lots Thursday at Freeman Elementary. 
 (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Kirk Lalley, Freeman School District facilities manager, clears parking lots Thursday at Freeman Elementary. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane kids probably won’t lose any of their precious summer.

But they’re going to get a little less sleep between now and then because Spokane Public Schools wants to add 15 minutes to each school day by starting classes a bit earlier.

Like most Eastern Washington school districts affected by recent snowstorms, the district has applied for a state waiver for the four school days missed during the “state of emergency.” If the waiver is granted, those days won’t have to be made up.

But in a nod to students’ need to prepare for upcoming WASL tests, officials say they’re going to lengthen the school day by starting 15 minutes earlier beginning March 1. Thursday is excluded because it’s always a late-start day.

To be eligible for the waivers, districts must prove students will have at least 1,000 hours of instructional time during the school year.

Most Spokane County districts surpass 1,000 hours and expect to be off the hook, eliminating any worries about graduation conflicts or siphoning off spring or summer vacation days.

Many rural schools won’t be as lucky. Some districts have missed as much as two weeks and will only be able to ask for a waiver for a few days.

Cheney Public Schools will ask for a waiver for five out of eight school days missed. Three days did not fall within the period for which Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a snow emergency, so a waiver cannot be applied, officials said.

The three days will be added to the end of the school year.

“We want Mother Nature to never let it snow again in Spokane County so we don’t have to deal with it,” Cheney schools Superintendent Mike Dunn said.

His sentiment is echoed by other school officials in North Idaho and Eastern Washington.

Idaho’s system is different than Washington’s. Gem State schools can take three inclement weather days, regardless of whether an emergency is declared. But any additional missed days must be made up so students don’t fall below the minimum classroom time required by the state.

So while their peers in most other districts will enjoy a day off Monday, students in St. Maries will be in class on President’s Day. The school district was closed eight days and is using the holiday to make one up.

“It is our intent to support family plans that have previously been made with as little disruption as possible,” Superintendent Dave Cox said in a press release.

Days off for parent-teacher conferences will also be canceled for St. Maries schools.

Spokane’s decision to lengthen the school day will help replace important lost time in the classroom, officials say, though it’s not required under the state waiver. The extra time now is important, they say, as students prepare to take the Washington Assessment of Student Learning beginning next month. For high school students, graduation is riding on the test.

But some question whether 15 minutes a day is meaningful. “It raises questions as to what a teacher can do,” during that short amount of time, said Rocky Treppiedi, a Spokane School Board member.

Other districts also wonder whether it would be useful to extend the school day. Medical Lake officials are considering adding time to the school day.

In many rural districts, however, elementary students ride the same bus routes as older students, putting in more hours than their urban counterparts.

“Our day already starts at the 8:15 and goes until 3 p.m., that’s already pretty lengthy,” said Sergio Hernandez, superintendent of the Freeman School District in south Spokane County.

Freeman missed six days due to weather and is asking the state for a waiver for four. The other two will be tacked onto the end of the school year.

“We want to make sure any time made up is quality time,” Hernandez said. “And that’s always more of a challenge” as summer nears.