NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After a spate of snowstorms pounded the South and East, school officials are trying to cram in more classroom time to make up for all those snow days, while educators and parents worry that students could fall behind in preparing for mandatory state tests.
Throughout the snow-weary region, schools are canceling spring break, extending school days and changing test schedules to make up the lost time. In some places, public schools have already been shuttered for 20 days with at least another month of winter weather to come.
New York City public schools, the nation's largest system, called for a rare snow day on Thursday after 19 inches of snow fell.
In Nashville, students have missed a week's worth of school since returning from winter break. Spring break has been canceled for the 4,500 students in the Knox County school system in the mountains of eastern Kentucky because they've racked up 20 missed days.
"Some years the weather cooperates better than others," mused the county schools' spokesman, Frank Shelton.
In Bledsoe County in eastern Tennessee, where mountain roads can still be icy two or three days after a snow, the school district planned for 13 snow days this year, but has already used 12.
After all those missed school days, there's a growing concern that student preparation for mandatory state tests may suffer.
In Tennessee, students in grades 5, 8 and 11 take a standardized writing assessment in February and districts schedule other tests throughout the school year. Allison Cutler has two children in middle school in Nashville's public school system, which failed to meet adequate yearly progress in 2010 as required under the No Child Left Behind Act.
"When they are missing those practice tests, in addition to regular schoolroom instructional time, then there starts to be tension about will the kids be as prepared as they can be for the big tests that matter so much?" Cutler said.
In Monroe, Conn., the snow days, late starting times and early dismissals were hampering its high school midterm exam schedule so much that it canceled those tests. Students now have the option of taking midterm exams if they want the scores to factor into their end-of-the-semester grades, but otherwise they'll be graded based on the work they've done to date.
"We're trying desperately to put students and teachers together in the classroom, but nature has not been cooperating with us," interim Assistant Superintendent Garrett Stack said.
To gain makeup days, some districts are canceling teacher training days, or extending the school day by 30 minutes. The schools in Asheville, N.C., plan to be open this Saturday, on a teacher workday in February, on Good Friday, on Memorial Day and a few days in June.
"You can sense the frustration rising with the parents — us, too," said Charlie Glazener, a spokesman with the school system in Asheville. "We were fine when we missed the first day, and the second and the third and fourth. But when it gets to about eight, it gets to be a strain."
Altering school schedules to cancel or add school days can throw families for a loop as they scramble to find last-minute baby sitters or rearrange work and after-school activities. Sports programs also suffer when weather cuts into practice time and games.
In West Virginia, the two-time defending state champion girls high school basketball team, North Marion, has played only 10 games since early December and had games postponed or canceled seven times.
"It's hard to prepare," girls coach Michael Parrish said. "You prepare for one team, and the next thing you know, that game is canceled and you end up having to prepare for another team."
In the meantime, parents — and students — are ready for things to return to normal.
"You know the snow day concept has worn out its welcome when even the kids wake up and go, 'What? No school! I'm sick of this!'" Crestwood, Ky., mother of two Kathleen Blanton lamented on her Facebook page Wednesday.
Blake contributed to this report from Louisville, Ky. Also contributing were Associated Press writers John Raby in Charleston, W.Va., Travis Loller in Nashville, Mike Baker in Raleigh, N.C, and Stephanie Reitz in Hartford, Conn.