School Board votes to extend school day for some students to make up for snow days

The proposed changes still need approval from one committee before they take effect.
Fayetteville School Board / Screen capture

The Fayetteville School Board on Thursday voted 7-0 to make changes to the district calendar that would add 35 minutes to the school day for students in 5th through 12th grades beginning Feb. 5. The proposed change would make up for days lost when recent winter weather led to classes being canceled for 7 days in January.

The extra time would be added to the end of the day, and would last through the end of the current school year. No changes are planned for elementary schools, officials said, since grades K-4 already have extra instruction time built into their schedules.

According to the LEARNS Act legislation that took effect this year, public schools in Arkansas are required to have 178 days or 1,068 hours of in-person learning to receive funding for the state’s $50,000 minimum teacher salaries. That amounts to about $2 million for Fayetteville Public Schools, officials said. As part of the legislation, school districts also lost some of the flexibility previously available for alternative method of instruction (AMI) days that allowed districts to offer online learning during inclement weather events.

The calendar proposal approved on Thursday would allow the district to meet the hours requirement outlined in the LEARNS Act, and avoid adding days to the end of the school year to make up for the time lost due to the recent cancellations.

Under the proposal approved by the board Thursday, the school day would end at 3:15 for middle school students, at 4 p.m. for junior high students, and at 4:05 p.m. for high school students.

In most instances, Fayetteville superintendent John Mulford said, the extra 35 minutes would be integrated into the day by extending existing instructional periods by about 5 minutes each.

Mulford said arrangements will be made for students and employees who have work obligations, extracurricular activities, and other conflicts after school.

“We recognize that for a lot of people, adding 35 minutes of the day will be beneficial… but there are also certainly those where it might create a hardship,” Mulford said. “We will work with those employees and families that have unique situations and we will find a solution.”

As part of the proposed calendar change, the board also voted to reserve Presidents Day on Feb. 19 as a holiday on the revised district calendar for now, with the option to make the holiday a regular school day should school need to be cancelled for another day due to winter weather. The district also voted to move an in-service day scheduled for April 19 up to April 8, a day when the solar eclipse will be visible in Arkansas. That day could also be used as a make-up day if needed, officials said.

The district’s Personnel Policy Committee will first need to approve the calendar changes before they take effect, though committee members were previously polled on the proposed changes and most members were in favor, officials said.

School district spokesperson Alan Wilbourn said the committee will vote on the proposed changes on Friday.

If the changes are approved, the last day of school for Fayetteville Public Schools would move back to the originally scheduled date of May 24, the Friday before Memorial Day.