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Lincoln Elementary School orchestra teacher Lizette Grinden teaches her fifth grade students some new sounds their cellos and Violia’s can produce Thursday morning. District 31 had decided to eliminate days off on a holiday and teacher conference to make up for lost snow days instead of extending school into the spring. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Bemidij schools add class days: Presidents Day is first to be converted into a school day

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BEMIDJI — All those snow days — or rather, cold days — have a price.

For Bemidji Area Schools, that equates to changing days previously scheduled as days off of school or early-release days to full school days.

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The changes, adopted Thursday morning by the Bemidji school board, were necessary due to the challenging winter, which to date has caused five canceled school days, three late-starts and one early-release.

The first change comes in less than a week, when Wednesday, Feb. 12 — previously a half-day of school — is converted into a full day of class. Likewise, March 12, also scheduled as a half-day, is now set to be a full day.

Presidents Day — Monday, Feb. 17 — is now a school day, as is April 21, Easter Monday.

March 6 and 7, which were no-school days set aside for parent-teacher conferences, will instead now be full school days.

“This is an extraordinary time and it calls for extraordinary measures,” said Jim Hess, superintendent, at the end of a special school board meeting Thursday morning at the district headquarters.

The changes will add back 1,680 minutes of 1,800 minutes of instruction time that were missed due to the five canceled school days. Making the changes now allows students to sooner benefit from the increased instruction time before mandated testing begins in April.

But it comes with a cost, both personal for those who had plans for the former off-days, and financial, as the district will have to address and negotiate the details with its bargaining units.

“We’ll do the best we can,” Hess said. “These are unusual times. They’re going to call on us to maybe make some allowances that ordinarily wouldn’t work, but people are going to have to be cooperative with us and we’re going to cooperate with them.

“We all have to be flexible. That’s the bottom line.”

The school board opted for the current path instead of two other approaches: One, adding on five days in June, which would not have helped students in time for April testing; or two, adding on 40 minutes of instruction to select school days in February, March and April.

‘“From an HR perspective, (the longer school day option) is an absolute nightmare,” said Jordan Hickman, director of human resources.

Because the day would be made longer, it would throw into conflict all the part-time employees who have other job commitments after their school shifts, and would call into question what constitutes a workday. If someone takes a day of vacation, would that be one day or 1.2 days of vacation?

Teacher licensing could also be problematic at the elementary, where 40 minutes at the end of the day would be set aside as test-prep time and certain specialties, like art, would not have the appropriate licensure to allow those staff to help, Hickman said.

Grants, such as those that fund the 21st Century program, include specific times and instructional details that also would need to be addressed, and athletic practices and schedules could be impacted.

Also, the district is responsible for transporting not only its own students, but those that attend charter and parochial schools as well.

Hess said he met with members of each bargaining unit, who all voiced support for the option chosen. The exception was food service staff, who were split between that option and longer school days.

“Each one has advantages and disadvantages and each one of them has opportunities and disincentives,” Hess said of the choices.

Conferences

One drawback of the adopted plan will be the loss of two days previously set aside for parent-teacher conferences.

Instead of being off school, students now will have a regular day of class on March 6 and 7.

“We would probably ask for conferences by telephone or we would still send home report cards … and if parents have a question or concern, we would ask them to get in touch with the teacher during that part of the day that we have set aside for communication,” Hess said.

It’s not ideal, he admitted, but with the situation being what it is, there is no perfect solution.

Requiring nighttime conferences would again add time and hours into teachers’ existing work days that would need to be negotiated and/or compensated.

Hess said the current plan will certainly create some hardships and difficulties but teachers will be available to parents who want to call to discuss their student’s needs.

“It (will) cause our teachers more work, I have to be honest about that,” Hess said of the new schedule. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

The dates

Full school days are now planned on:

Feb. 12

Feb. 17

March 6

March 7

March 12

April 21

The last day of school is still June 3, but families are cautioned that winter is far from over. June 5 and 6 are set aside for make-up days if needed, and June 4, a half-day for teachers, has been mentioned as a possible day for make-up time, too, if needed.

Seniors’ last day is still set to be May 23, with graduation on May 24.

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