SNOW MAKE UP DAYS, 2015: MORE THAN AN INCONVENIENCE, THIS DECISION IS A BREACH OF CONTRACT

Dear members of the Wake County Public School Board,

I’m writing to you as an alum, an employee, and a parent of a current student in the Wake County Public School System. I have experienced Wake County Public Schools from all angles and know that this is a superior school district.  The schools in our district are wonderful places to learn, work, and send our children. I appreciate that this school board has been forced to make difficult decisions lately, and that the challenge of scheduling make up days that were agreeable to students, staff, and parents, but which still preserved instructional integrity was a formidable task.  I understand that in situations like these, making everyone happy is impossible, and that the NC calendar laws forcing a late start to the school year, semesters that end three weeks after the winter break, and a consequential disconnect between testing windows and the end of the school year adds its own complications.   Nonetheless, while I understand the challenges posed by the recent winter weather, I do not understand the decisions made by the school board with respect to the make up days determined, specifically the decision to disregard the make up days which were ostensibly voted on and explicitly stated on the district’s 2014-2015 traditional calendar in favor of days that are disruptive to the financial and familial obligations of students, parents, and employees.

Since the Board meeting on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, the make up days proposed by this school board have been completely nonsensical. Tuesday’s questionable proposal to schedule Good Friday and two Saturdays as make up days escalated to today’s OUTRAGEOUS decision to designate the first three days of Spring Break as make up dates.  Many reasons contribute to the outrage expressed this week by students, parents, and teachers alike on social media.  These include, but are not limited to:

1.  The district’s announcement on Tuesday, March 3rd that Spring Break would not be taken away, which undoubtedly prompted not only non-refundable vacation plans being made, but also a sense of security in making plans for those dates.

2.  The scant two week notice that plans have to be changed, travel cancelled or modified, money lost, or arrangements made with teachers and principals regarding make up work for days which earlier in the week were guaranteed as “safe.”

3.  The fact that the district required teachers to go to work during the snow days or “take vacation time,” only to now have vacation time taken away and no announced plans for how the extra work time and lost vacation will be compensated. In short, this decision puts WCPSS in debt to its employees.

4.  The reality that most families (including teachers) will understandably opt to go ahead with their Spring break travel, thereby guaranteeing mass absenteeism for both students AND teachers, compromising the “instructional integrity” that this choice of days is supposed to preserve.

As far as I’m concerned, and based on the complaints I’ve heard from other students, parents, and employees, these same objections, with the possible exception of number one, can be applied to the earlier “plan” to make up days on two Saturdays and Good Friday.  Both plans were/are bad plans for the same reason:  they both compromise days that, according to the 2014-2015 calendar, a calendar which was developed and approved by the school board, were guaranteed to be non-school days.  When an official calendar says that, with the exception of year-round schools, no school will be held on Saturdays, students, parents, and teachers plan activities and/or alternate employment for their Saturdays.  When the official calendar says that there will be a long weekend at the beginning of April, students, parents, and teachers plan for that long weekend. When the school calendar says that, at most, only one day of Spring Break could be taken away because of school missed for inclement weather, students, parents, and teachers make plans for those days.  Often, and especially in the case of Spring Break and long weekends, the plans entail expensive and non-refundable financial obligations.   The decision to make up school on these “protected” days is tantamount to a breach of contract in the eyes of most people in the district.  This, more than lost money and broken expectations, is the real impetus behind the outrage expressed by parents, students, and teachers.

The RIGHT decision to make in terms of make up days, is to use the days itemized on the 2014-2015 Traditional Calendar, in order, as indicated.  The presence of these days on the calendar is, in essence, a clause in the calendar contract, stating to parents and teachers that should any days off be compromised by inclement weather, they can expect that the days listed will be the ones to change from non-school days to school days.  This allows people to manage their expectations and plan for their families, understanding the risks present in the school calendar.  The importance of this security is significant.  People may feel comfortable with their child missing one day of school due to a lost day of Spring Break, and will take the risk to schedule vacation during that week.  Missing THREE days of school, on the other hand, might not be as comfortable. If parents knew that their vacation plans could result in missing THREE DAYS, they may have made different decisions.  The presence of the make up days on the calendar gives people security to be able to plan their lives.  That the board chose to disregard this security has created a breach of trust between the board and the community, which is why it was the WRONG decision to make.

The other factor proving that the right decision would have been to adhere to the posted make up days is that listed make up days are all teacher workdays.  Teachers are expected to report to school on days when it is cancelled for inclement weather.  These canceled days become workdays that are balanced out when students make up instructional time on future planned work days that revert to instructional days.  This alleviates a major issue that the county has right now wherein teachers reported to work for as many as seven snow days, but are now having to work on days which were previously early release, holiday, or vacation days.  The decision to override the established make up days places the school system in debt to employees who now have as many as nine days that they will have worked, but will not have been paid for.  This is yet another reason why the current decision is the WRONG decision.

The million dollar question, therefore, is WHY has the school board opted to disregard the make up dates that they established, approved, and published in favor of days that do nothing but present a hardship to everyone involved?  When one person asked this question on Twitter, the WCPSS Twitter account replied:

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 Curious to read the justification for this decision, I visited the WCPSS website and found this:

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Try as I might, the only answer that I see to this question is in the last sentence, where the county claims that the three end of year workdays listed as make up days are “primarily used for teachers to close out the school year.”  This does not in anyway answer the question of why those days cannot be used.  First, this claim that teachers need those days to close out the year is just not true.  I’m going to go out on a limb here to speak for my colleagues, but no teacher has ever said, “I wish there were more days at the end of the year to ‘close out the school year.'” Second, regardless of teachers’ expectation of having three workdays to close out the year, the presence of those days in the approved list of make-up days communicates to teachers and parents that these days are not guaranteed.  Understanding at the outset that these days are at risk goes a long way in allowing stakeholders to manage their expectations.  Moreover, teachers, parents, and students would have more than two months to adjust to this change rather than a scant two weeks.  That makes a huge difference.  Third, if, as this FAQ response suggests, the last three workdays of school are essential school closing days, certainly this would have been true when the calendar was made and when make up days were designated.  IF this were the true reason, it would have been true every year that human beings have ever participated in public education and therefore, these days would never have been under consideration as potential make up days, much less listed on an official district calendar as such.  This answer, in other words, is not an adequate answer to the question, a key question that MUST be sufficiently answered to restore trust in this school board.

The conclusion that this Board should reach is that the decision to make up school on ANY days other than the ones stated on the 2014-2015 traditional calendar is, in fact, the WRONG decision.  Not only does this create undue complication and controversy regarding employee compensation, but it also creates a distrust between the School Board and the stakeholders in the county.  The school calendar should be viewed as a veritable contract between the Board, parents, teachers, and students, and any deviation from the agreed upon instructional days should be viewed as a breach of that contract.  The outrage expressed in the wake of this controversial decision is not so much about lost money, vacation time, or family time.  The outrage is in response to the utter powerlessness and disrespect that stakeholders feel at not being able to trust the information communicated by this school board.  People feel that they cannot make informed decisions for their families without suddenly and unexpectedly conflicting with their children’s educations.  This is a disservice to the community enacted by a group whose job and basis for election is a promise to behave fairly and transparently to the constituency.

Again, I think we can all appreciate the difficult decisions that must be made regarding inclement weather.  We all also understand that no matter what the decision, some people will find fault with it.  We also know, however, that if fault were found with a decision that had been communicated from the beginning of the school year through the school calendar, the board could justifiably refer to this document as justification for its decision and accurately say that the make up days for inclement weather have been determined since the incarnation of the calendar.  Moreover, I dare say that the outrage would be minimal given the reality that people’s expectations would have been duly managed and the decision-making process would be viewed as entirely transparent.  In light of this, I appeal to the Board to please do the right thing, make the RIGHT decision, and adhere to the make up days that were delineated on the school calendar.  If the Board feels these days are not appropriate for some reason, the proper procedure would be to amend this error in future calendars, not change the rules of the game while the game is being played.  Again, the right call would be to rescind this latest make up day decision and revert to the days designated on the school calendar.  Please restore the trust between your Board and the parents, students, and employees of this school district by reconsidering and retracting the decision made today in favor of the one made over a year ago.

Respectfully submitted,

Concerned teacher and parent

Post script:  If any readers of this open letter agree with the assertions made in this letter, please share it on social media and indicate your support in the comments section.

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97 thoughts on “SNOW MAKE UP DAYS, 2015: MORE THAN AN INCONVENIENCE, THIS DECISION IS A BREACH OF CONTRACT

  1. Parent and WCPSS Teacher says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve shared on social media. Very upset at this decision and how it has all been handled.

    Like

  2. Senior of WCPSS says:

    Masterfully written and extremely true. Not to mention the scheduled vacations of families with seniors will ruin all the hard work seniors have put in, attending school sick and tired, by making them have too many absences for exemptions. It is ridiculous that students planned on days off, and now they have to ruin their plans because of a county exemption policy. If wake county doesn’t use their designated snow days, as per policy, I want my senior exemptions regardless of absences.

    Like

  3. Lisa Gormon says:

    Teacher will be held accountable for another impossible situation. How can they cover new material to half-empty classrooms or expect substitutes to cover the material? Up north they plan on a week of inclement weather. It is built into the school calendar. If they don’t use them all, they get out early for Summer!!! Easy.

    Like

  4. Steve Moore says:

    Remember this stupidity when you elect School Board members next time. This is what happens when incompetents are elected.

    Like

  5. Multi-student parent says:

    No, Steve Moore… this isn’t from incompetence… this is from trying to please each and every group the board hears from. Pleasing everyone is impossible, pissing everyone off is easy. Dear school board: pick a schedule and stick with it.

    Like

  6. Marge Thoresen says:

    Makes perfect sense to me. Logic was never displayed by the school board or upper administration when I worked for them, so why would it come into play now? This is another example of total lack of consideration for teachers, students and parents alike!

    Like

  7. A calendar with make up days was voted on and accepted and posted for the public to see and plan accordingly. Stick with it — honor your public decision and use June 9-11! Then no one can complain because they were forewarned if it leads to a conflict. Your behavior these past few weeks has been ludicrous and indefensible.

    Like

  8. Wake County Staff Member says:

    While the school board may have many difficult decisions to make, this make up time should not be one of them. Use the days that were approved prior to the start of school!!!! If the school board feels these days present some sort of issue, then take that into consideration for the future.

    Like

  9. Bonnie says:

    Is the make time required in hours or days? If it is hours extend the school day by a short period of time like 20-30 minutes to make up the time.

    Like

  10. Emily Roberts says:

    The calendar already lists make-up days. Now we need to utilize the make-up days. It only makes sense — use the days set aside and approved as potential make-ups since the beginning of the school year!

    Like

  11. Jeanne says:

    How can we trust Wake County School Board going forward? It will be interesting to see how many students show up to school during Spring Break. Hopefully attendance will be minimal and it will send a clear message to the school board.

    Like

  12. Deidre Hinkle says:

    At this point, to minimize the impact to all parties, the 3 days could be made up as follows: the Monday of spring break as originally designated as a workday on the approved calendar, one Saturday, and one day designated as a workday at the end of the year. This solution impacts all parties equally. Because the Monday of spring break was always an unknown variable, church mission trip, school international trip, and even family trip planners knew the risk of the kids having to miss an instructional day. That was a chance worth taking. Seniors can still be exempt from exams, no large chunk of instruction is lost, etc.

    As far as the limitations from the tourism industry on when schools can start and stop, that needs to be revisited. The restrictions in place are putting undue constraints on the calendar when it is a week for week trade-off for tourism revenue. They either get their money at spring break, or we disregard spring break, and they think they get it that first week of summer. I can tell you personally, our family does not take our yearly vacation in the summer for a number of reasons. One, when you have older teens, they generally have a job, or an internship in the summer. Two, many places are just too hot that time of year. The tourism industry needs to probably look at the revenue value of spring break a little higher than one summer week.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Maria says:

    My son has a life threatening illness and we’ve scheduled his Make-a-Wish vacation for Spring Break. Not only will he be out of school for that week (okay, admittedly he doesn’t go to school much due to his illness, but still) but his siblings will be out of school that week as well. The school confirmed with us a week ago that they wouldn’t be missing any days as Spring Break was still on, so we had Make-a-Wish go ahead and buy the plane tickets. No going back now.

    Like

  14. Wake Citizen says:

    Jacob- can we please not cost our tax payers more money by filing frivolous lawsuits?

    Seriously, how would this suggestion help?

    Like

  15. Thank you for putting in writing what I have been thinking since the Saturday announcement. I agree with every point you made. One additional concern that impacts the teachers that may not be well known is that if a teacher uses annual leave days in order to take a planned spring break, it costs the teacher $50/day for payment to a substitute teacher even if no substitute teacher is needed or available.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. StopTheHarassment says:

    Your principal argument is that WCPSS is in breach of contract. Really? Were you equally upset about it last year when, instead of going by the published makeup days, WCPSS deviated by opting to extend the school year? Just curious to know if your “breach of contract” principle is an exception or if you were equally upset last year.

    Like

      1. When I say the “specific make up days” I mean a listing of the actual dates of make up as opposed to proposed dates of make up. I know that I was done that Friday, June 13th. And those dates are listed as the published make up dates. So no, I wasn’t upset because they went by the calendar. And come to think about it, there wasn’t a big media showdown about it either. My principal point is that people should be able to manage their expectations. They should be able to trust official communication from the school board. The “breach of contract bit” is something literary types call “hyperbole”. It’s exaggeration to create a specific effect. Though right not there’s a literal breach of my contract. I’ve worked five days that I haven’t been paid for, and I also have to pay $150 for my subs over Spring Break. I’m taking a group of students on multi-day field trip. So technically, I have to pay $150 for my subs on three days when I will be responsible for students.

        Like

  17. MrsC23 says:

    Teachers required to work two days and only getting paid for one? That just isn’t right. Especially when one day was already without kids and the second has the potential to be without kids as well.

    Like

    1. I have no idea what you’re talking about. If this is a supportive comment, thank you. If it’s sarcasm, see the comment immediately above yours. Spring Break wasn’t a vacation for me. Also I’ve worked five days and am getting paid for none, so double check that math. Actually I’m out $150 for subs, so as things stand now, I had to pay $150 to work five days. I guess you think that’s reasonable.

      Like

  18. Lula says:

    I am another one of the thousands of confused Wake County residents and WCPSS employees who are puzzled as to WHY the workdays at the end of the school year are not being put to use as snow make up days. as they have been in the past years. Many, many WCPSS employees as well as students and their families have made plans for the Spring Break week.

    In regard to system employees, 2 weeks before the break is not adequate time to announce an altered Spring Break schedule, especially those that offer no refund. My opinion: students, unless they have a prior history of bad attendance, will still be fine to take their trips with the family.
    Again, June 9-11 were the scheduled snow make up days!

    Like

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