A law that went into effect during the 2019-2020 school year has changed the face of snow days. Districts are no longer required to have a school year with a minimum of 174 days in length. Districts must meet an hours requirement, currently totaling 1,044.

Districts in Dent County have built in 60 hours for inclement weather, ensuring that makeup dates are not needed, according to Salem R-80 Superintendent John McColloch.

The law provides reduced requirements should a large number of days be missed due to weather. Districts are required to make up no more than 60 hours of lost instructional time. If schools have already attained the DESE requirement of 1,044 hours for the year, they don’t have to make up any days lost. If a district misses an extreme amount of pupil attendance hours, they can request a waiver from the commissioner of education.

McColloch has reported in previous articles that each of the five districts in Dent County begin checking the roads about 3 a.m. if inclement weather is expected. If the decision is made to not have school, information is typically sent out around 5:30 a.m. Each district has an automated phone system and information is sent to area television and radio stations.

“This is never a decision that is taken lightly and is often the source of a great deal of stress and second-guessing,” he shared.

Because the four districts feed into Salem High School, it is important that all open or close at the same time, he said.

“Granted, we are five separate districts that are autonomous of one another, but decisions have to be made as a group to do what is best for all of our students,” he said.

Each district gets a vote on whether to close school or remain open due to weather. If two of the five districts vote to close school, then all five districts typically call off school. It might be very possible that a home in southern Dent County will have nothing on the roads at all and a home in northern Dent County could have ice, sleet, and snow. In this case, typically all five schools would be closed.

“Our city, county, and state road and highway departments do a great job of getting our roads ready, but with thousands of miles of county roads the buses travel each day it takes them time, especially if Mother Nature is working against them,” McColloch said.

When multiple days are missed due to inclement weather and districts need to make up pupil attendance time, the school now has a variety of options to make up hours, and not full days.

Some of those options include adding an additional day to the school year, adding time to existing school days or removing previously scheduled off days.

Missouri school systems on a four-day week can add a fifth day in order to make up hours. Missouri lawmakers passed legislation in 2009 that allows public school districts to establish a four-day school week upon a majority vote of the district school board. The Missouri School Boards’ Association reports 58 of the state’s 518 public school districts have made the switch to a four-day week.