Lawrence school district shares plan to make up snow day time; Free State students walk out in protest

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The Lawrence school district has announced there will be no more early dismissal on Wednesdays this year for middle and high schoolers in order to compensate for time lost due to inclement weather, leaving some high schoolers upset enough to walk out.

The district canceled school on four days in January because of inclement weather, and some students will have to make up the lost time. 

One change applies to all grade levels: All schools will be in session on Monday, April 15. That day was built into the calendar as a makeup day. 

Otherwise, the district’s early childhood and elementary school schedules still meet the state-required minimum instruction hours, Julie Boyle, a spokesperson for the district, wrote in an email to school families.

However, there will be big changes for middle and high schoolers beginning after spring break. None of the six secondary schools will have early dismissal for the remaining 10 Wednesdays of the 2024 spring semester. 

Also, beginning Monday, March 18, all four middle schools will start at 8:05 a.m. — 10 minutes earlier than they usually do — and dismiss at 2:56 p.m. Monday through Friday. High schools will keep the same start and dismissal times. 

“The district understands the revised middle and high school schedules may cause hardships for some of our school families. We sincerely apologize,” Boyle wrote. “It is our hope that by announcing these changes now, families will be able to use the next 10 days to put plans in place for making any necessary adjustments for the remainder of the school year.” 

On rainy Thursday afternoon, about 50 Free State High School students walked out of the building in protest of the plans. Walkouts are planned at both high schools after spring break, which is next week. 

Photos by Free State student-journalist Nathan Kramer

Boyle wrote that the district considered adding days at the end of the year instead; “however, with the Memorial Day holiday, concerns include previous plans made by staff and school families, student attendance, and the availability of substitutes,” she wrote. 

The district has been working with a state auditor to ensure it meets the required 1,116 instructional hours minimum for the school year, which is necessary to remain in compliance and accredited, Boyle said. 

“While reviewing our calculations of school hours, the auditor advised that the district cannot count toward state minimum requirements the 1.5 days of parent-teacher conferences held August 14 and 16. Since our regular schedule of classes had not started yet, those hours do not meet the definition of ‘discussions about student progress,’ as required by state law (KSA 72-3115),” Boyle wrote. 

Boyle told us back in January that the district typically waits to calculate its instructional hours until after the months with extreme weather conditions pass. District leaders would determine if they must add minutes or hours to meet state requirements, and if needed, the school board determines how to make up the time, Boyle said at the time, and past school boards have added minutes to remaining school days.

But the plan to nix early dismissal on Wednesdays for secondary students has not been an item on the school board’s agenda, and the board doesn’t meet again until Monday, March 25. 

Boyle wrote in an email that “some year-end staff plan time scheduled on April 12 and staff recording and reporting time scheduled on May 22 has been changed to staff professional development time in order to meet the state minimum requirements.”

Representatives of the Lawrence Education Association, the district’s teachers union, did not respond Thursday afternoon to an email seeking comment for this article. 

However, a member of district staff forwarded us an email that stated “LEA was NOT consulted about this plan” and that “LEA leadership is in the process of working with our (Kansas National Education Association) team to figure out what next steps look like.”

Teachers were informed that “The district understands that these revised schedules may cause hardships for some staff and reflect a reduction in staff year-end plan time. We sincerely apologize and appreciate the adjustments and compromises you are making to help us ensure the district remains in state compliance,” according to the forwarded email.

The Free Press, the student publication at Free State High School, reported more about the impacts on Firebirds’ schedules. Read more at this link

The Budget, Lawrence High School’s student publication, reported that teachers were surprised by the schedule announcement, too. Read more at this link

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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