Q&A with Superintendent Dan Behm: adding additional days to the district’s school year

As this year’s record-breaking winter comes to a close, Superintendent Dan Behm explains the complex thinking behind adding additional days to the district’s school year.


Q: What’s the current expected plan with adjusting the schedule for the snow days?

A: Frustratingly, we are not yet able to establish a definite plan due to continued deliberation by the state legislature as to how to deal with the record amount of snow days this year.  Tentatively, we are asking families and staff members to be prepared to move the last day of school to June 12 from the original date of June 7.

Q: When will the district know the plan for sure?

A: This is a great question as no one can say for certain when the legislature will make a final decision.  We feel that we will have a much better sense of the legislature’s decision on this by the end of April. School districts and businesses (especially those that employ high school-aged students) are urging the legislature to make a decision one way or another as soon as possible.

Q: How will exams be affected?

A: If we add the three additional days, the exam schedule will move to coincide with the final added days of the school year.

Q: How many snow days are usually dismissed, and why can’t we pardon the extras?

A: Typically, we may have five or six snow days in a school year.  Hundreds of districts this year across our state exceeded the typical allotment of six “forgiven days” (the state’s term for snow days, power outage days, etc.).  The state superintendent has the authority to grant three additional forgiven days. State law does not allow local school districts to waive additional days on their own.

Q: Why is this the chosen option rather than taking away half days or hour delays?

A: This can be confusing (I don’t make these rules). There are two state laws that are applicable here. One state law requires districts to schedule at least 1,098 hours of “instructional time.”  The other state law requires districts to schedule at least 180 school “days.” Under the law regarding hours, there are all sorts of rules as to what qualifies as instructional time. Under the second law regarding school days, half days and full days both count as “days.” Changing a half day to a full day does not increase a district’s “day count.”

FHPS schedules one more day than the minimum required days and about 30 hours more than the minimum instructional hours. We are in full compliance with the instructional hour requirement even with the high number of snow days. The issue is the law requiring 180 days. Taking away delay days or half days does nothing to address this law. Again, in terms of instructional hours, FHPS is in compliance. The issue is with the days.

Q: What will this mean for seniors versus underclassmen?

A: Seniors are not affected by this uncertainty. Graduation ceremonies will take place as originally scheduled. This is also a quirk in state rules.  School districts do not have to meet the requirements for minimum hours and days for seniors (within reason). I believe this state rule exists because of the limited number of facilities that exist in communities to accommodate large crowds for commencement ceremonies.

Q: Do you expect backlash from this change? If so, what would you say to opposers?

A: There will be backlash regardless of the outcome of this issue.  Different people prefer different outcomes here. The issue now is providing clarity as soon as possible.  I don’t make the state laws or rules on this issue. These laws were instituted years apart from one another. The corresponding administrative rules were also crafted and amended over many decades. In context, many of these rules can leave anyone scratching their head in an attempt to find clarity and common sense. All in all, it’s been an “outlier” winter and I am grateful our students and staff made it through safely.

Absent a legislative fix for this year, FHPS would lose approximately $1.2 million in operating revenue if we failed to make up the three days. We can’t afford this loss of budgeted revenue.

Q: Have you ever seen or witnessed something like this in your career?

A: This year was certainly a first for the number of snow days. (I have been making snow day decisions for 19 years.) I hope to avoid any more winters like this year’s.  I am looking forward to a season of uneventful weather!