Three school buses sit outside Fort Fairfield Elementary School on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — With three significant snowstorms in the last couple of weeks, many Aroostook County schools closed early or canceled classes altogether due to unsafe roads, pushing the school year deeper into June for some.

Schools have to make up storm days this year, since the state waiver on making up lost school time associated with COVID-19 has expired. The waiver was put in place in 2020.

Maine law requires schools to be in session at least 175 days per year. When winter weather hits, administrators decide whether to release students early or declare a storm day, which usually means extending the school year. With plenty of winter left, Aroostook’s superintendents are considering how to make up those days, including using remote learning, even as some wonder if avoiding extra school days in June is the best option.

Houlton-area superintendents report taking three snow days already this year, while most in central Aroostook have used two. Northern areas have used none due to storm timing and adjustments to school start or end times. Most administrators allow three or four snow days in the annual school calendar.

Most schools whose storm days exceed what they allotted will make them up at the end of the year. In Hodgdon, SAD 70 Superintendent Stephen Fitzpatrick said the district’s three storm days so far mean school will end June 10, rather than June 7.  

Adding days to the end of the year for Mars Hill schools appears to have the least impact, SAD 42 Superintendent Elaine Boulier said.

“We have tried adding five one-hour increments over a five-week span to make up one of our days; that was not an option that staff and parents wanted to revisit [because of scheduling and logistics issues],” Boulier said.

 

Some administrators are considering using remote learning since the system already is in place due to COVID-19 protocols. Others will turn teacher workshops into make-up days.

Presque Isle area schools would like to use a snow day as a regular school session via remote learning, but in order for it to count, students must be provided lunch, SAD 1 Superintendent Ben Greenlaw said.

“That is challenging when it comes to getting meals to students during days when the roads are not safe or sending meals home with students prior to a snowstorm and sending it home in such a way that the food and milk that we are required to serve don’t spoil,” Greenlaw said.

Fort Kent, Frenchville and Madawaska schools will use a March 11 teacher workshop day for makeup, and then add days in June if needed, Valley Unified Executive Director Ben Sirois said.

Larry Worcester, SAD 45 superintendent, said he has been in other school systems where they used Saturdays, but that’s not his first choice because a lot of people don’t show up.  

Both he and Greenlaw said that some combination of remote learning and makeup days is the best plan, since both parents and students like an occasional storm day as a break from school.

“In future years, I think the district will not provide remote learning for students during the first snow day or two, and then look to provide remote learning opportunities, if feasible, when additional snow days are required,” Greenlaw said.