Cover Story: Race against the calendar

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - You expect snow in the mountains in the winter but not like we've had this year.

The High Country experiencing one of its worst winters on record some area with over 100 inches so far.  Several counties closing schools again today.

While it may be nice for skiers, it's creating problems for schools trying to comply with a state law.

Since before Christmas students have been out of school more than they've been in.

And with another month-plus of winter to go if it keeps on snowing some wonder much the calendar can take and how great an impact it may have on students' learning.

From the coast.  To the mountains.  And points in between.  It's been snowing everywhere this winter in the Carolinas.  And schools are feeling it.

Wake and Durham counties 3 snow days so far.  Guilford county's had four. Charlotte-Mecklenburg one and neighboring districts in the single digits.  But in the High Country, Watauga county schools have been out 20 days for snow this winter.

They've had so much snow on Beech Mountain 100-inches they're talking of breaking a record.

"You think about Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia they've all had about six feet of snow this year.. which are all time records," says WBTV meteorologist Eric Thomas.  "That's 72-inches. And yet very quietly Beech Mountain over 100 inches of snow and counting."

Why is that a problem?  While students may enjoy the vacation they're racing against the calendar.

Not every state requires it, but North Carolina mandates school be in session 180 days and the academic year wrap up by June 10th.

Watauga county schools for example, going back to December, have had a winter full of red on the calendar.  To make up those days they're canceling some of the Spring Break, extending the school year out to June (they're were supposed to be done mid-May) and having school on Saturdays when they can.

"I'm sure that everybody's getting a little tired of not having a routine.  You come in for a couple of days and you're back out," says Marshall Ashcraft, spokesman for the Watauga county school system.

While educators say they don't anticipate the on and again off again school calendar will have a detrimental impact on end of the year test scores, they're accustomed to having snow days in these parts, it can't be good for learning.

Reporter Steve Ohnesorge who opened WBTV's western bureau 30 years ago says the weather's been the only thing people are talking about.  Snow's been piled up in Morganton since December 18th.

Says Ohnesorge, "The ski areas lot it and for the economy it couldn't be any better because they do keep the main roads open to be able to get to the ski areas.. cause that's the life blood up there. But I think even the hardiest of people in the mountains are at this point pretty much asking for it to stop."

It's a 2004 law that sets when North Carolina schools have to start and end the school year.

What happens if mountain counties have to go past June 10th?  The state will give them a waiver.

They will not let them add hours to the day or go on Sundays, keep in mind there's a month left of winter left.

What's the most days Watauga students have been out of school?

The record for Watauga county is 39 days, going back to 1977-78.