Are we shortchanging our students by not aggressively looking at the number of teaching days in our school year? Are we too relaxed about making the decision to close schools because of weather – those so-call ‘storm days’? Should we be more vigilant about the teaching time our children receive in our schools?

This Commentary, School’s Out, Again: Why “throw away” schools days hurt students, takes a look at how lost days are handled in provinces outside the region. As well, author Paul W. Bennett  provides some preliminary evidence of the cost to our children of those lost teaching days.

It’s a timely report to add to the public policy discussion first prompted a year ago by a front page story in the Halifax Chronicle Herald which raised the issue of recouping the teaching time lost during the stormy winter of 2008-2009. The public furor eventually prompted the Nova Scotia Department of Education to commission retired superintendent Dr. James Gunn to produce a report on “School Storm Days” intended strictly as a Discussion Paper for the local boards.

But with the mild winter of 2009-2010 behind us, little has been said or decided about those ‘lost school days’. Bennett’s Commentary changes that and he makes seven recommendations which can be adapted to any Atlantic province:

1. Reaffirm the Department of Education’s primary responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the provincial school schedule, including the provision of a minimum number of teaching days and that schools actually be open for all of them;
2. To facilitate recommendation one, amend the Education Act and regulations so as to reaffirm the authority of the Minister of Education to reclaim school days lost because of access problems or other adverse facilities conditions, including storm closings, leaking roofs, or furnace problems;
3. Amend the Collective Agreement with the teacher’s union to guarantee a minimum number of teaching days and stipulate that when the schools remain open teachers (as well as support staff) are expected to report for duty;
4. Mandate the Department of Transportation (DOTIR in NS) to develop (in collaboration with the provincial Pupil Transportation Advisory Committee) a coordinated province-wide strategy for snow clearance and highway plowing assigning higher priority to heavy daily student transportation zones, particularly along secondary roadways and working more closely with municipalities to improve services on dirt roads;
5. Mandate every School Board/District to produce a contingency plan to reclaim days that are lost, including using holiday periods and giving absolute priority to restoring lost teaching time;
6. Initiate an independent Provincial Review of the Impact of Lost Class Time on student engagement, classroom learning, and student performance, particularly on provincial, national and international assessments:
7. Assess the impact of reducing the numbers of school storm days on student learning and performance once every five years, commencing in 2014-15.

To read the complete Commentary, click here.