Proposed legislation to excuse snow days under states of emergency

Posted at 5:35 PM, Feb 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-12 17:36:12-05

LANSING, Mich. — The past few weeks of winter weather has pushed local school districts way past their allotted snow days.

However, some state lawmakers are looking to fix that by creating proposals that would excuse the extra days and prevent kids from going to school later into the summer.

State Rep. Ben Frederick, R-Owosso, said, "I had a teacher in Shiawassee County bring me the idea about, really asking a question, 'Why are schools, in effect, being penalized when we're under a state of emergency?'"

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's state of emergency declaration during the polar vortex may have been a sign of the severity of the weather, but it did not require schools to cancel. That’s a decision left up to each district.

Frederick wants snow days used during the state of emergency to be excused.

"They're closed under a state of emergency and (currently) the days still count against the bank of snow days that they're allowed. So the bill would simply say that for state of emergency-based closures, that does not count against the allowed amount of closures for the year," he explained.

The state allows six snow days per year before they have to be made up in the summer, and there is the option of a waiver for up to three days. However, Jennifer Smith with the Michigan Association of School Boards said most districts have already used those and then some.

"My home district, today we've been out.. today is nine days. I talked to a superintendent over the weekend who's been out 19. So it's a problem that varies across the state," she explained.

Frederick is one of two state lawmakers introducing a plan, and it wouldn’t just apply for this year. It would apply to any state of emergencies to come.

However, Smith said there is more work to be done to prevent this problem in the future. She pointed to the controversial decision to begin the school year after Labor Day as something that needs to be addressed.

"Something else that this is driving, not just 'school day forgiveness' but allowing districts to determine without a waiver from the state when they start school. That if districts can start when they choose, that last week of August, whatever the case may be, they can build some of this time in if they're in a high snow area," she said.

Frederick said, "I think the discussion on post-Labor Day, pre-Labor Day is overdue. I was not supportive of the change to post-Labor Day when it went through a few years ago. My local schools have opted to start before Labor Day, but it is a process to do that. I think it's a worthy discussion to offer that local control on the start."

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich is the other lawmaker considering similar legislation. However, he wants to excuse extra days taken outside of the state of emergency time frame.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey isn't "inclined to support" forgiving all snow days from extreme weather, according to spokeswoman Amber McCann. However, she said he is open to discussing the state of emergency exemption.

Frederick plans to formally introduce his bill this coming Thursday. We will keep you updated.