‘Just really frustrated’

Mother Nature messing with schools this winter more than past years

News Photo by Julie Goldberg Students spend their snow day playing in the snow at the Boys and Girls Club of Alpena on Friday.

ALPENA — Students in the Northeast Michigan region have barely had school in February because of the crazy weather Mother Nature is throwing at the area.

Local superintendents are frustrated with the lack of school days since the weather has prevented students from being in the classroom and learning.

Both Alpena Public Schools and Alcona Community Schools are at 16 snow days this school year, the most among local districts. Snow days this year already far outnumber recent years, with weeks still to go before the spring thaw.

Alpena Superintendent John VanWagoner said the safety of students is the number-one priority and getting them to and from school safely, but the frustration is real.

“We’re all just really frustrated,” VanWagoner said. “We’ve had a real dilemma to make some tough decisions. We err on the side of safety in making those decisions, but they’re not easy decisions. Mother Nature is just not cooperating fully with us.”

Northeast Michigan has been hit with a few snowstorms, some freezing rain, with some warm weather mixed in this winter. The crazy weather has made roads unsafe for buses to drive to pick up and drop off students. VanWagoner said the weather has caused havoc for Alpena’s transportation department.

School athletic events have had to be postponed or canceled because of the weather, causing athletic directors and administrators to keep rescheduling games and events. Afterschool practices have also been canceled, forcing teams to go days without practicing for games.

Only having a few days of school the past three weeks has prevented students from getting on a routine for learning, VanWagoner said. Teachers are struggling with not being able to teach their students or get on a routine, themselves.

“I’m just hoping that the weather pattern here changes for us so that we can get some consistency and string days together so that we can bring some normalcy back and really have an opportunity to educate our students,” VanWagoner said.

Alpena is working on figuring out how to make up the snow days. The district changed this upcoming Wednesday from a half-day to a full day of school, canceling a planned teacher training session, so teachers can instead have a full day of instruction and be in front of students.

“As much as we value professional development, we have to value instruction time to the highest priority,” VanWagoner said. “We’re looking at our calendar to see if there’s other days that maybe we could do a half-day or a full day to see if there’s something here in the future here that we can maybe gain a day or two in, but there’s not a lot of flexibility there.”

VanWagoner said Alpena will look for flexibility from the state, but there will be make-up days in June. As of Friday, he said the last day of school would likely be June 17, not June 7, like originally scheduled.

State law requires schools to provide a minimum number of hours of instruction. Legislation is in the works in Lansing that would forgive schools for any snow days called during a state of emergency declared by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for several days in late January and early February.

There’s a lot of winter left, VanWagoner said, and the district is worried about how far school goes in June.

Just a few years ago, local school districts were having fewer snow days than they are now. Rogers City Area Schools had only one snow day in 2009-10 and two snow days in 2010-11.

In the 2015-16 school year, Atlanta Community Schools had only three snow days, while Hillman Community Schools, only 15 minutes away, had eight snow days.

When the state was hit with a polar vortex in the 2014 winter, all local school districts had seven snow days, with the exception of Alcona, which had eight snow days.

The National Weather Service says the Alpena area could be hit with more snow Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.