A bill approved 34-1 Thursday by the state Senate would let schools lengthen their days for the rest of the school year instead of having to make them up. The minimum requirement of 170 school days would be waived, but schools still would have to have at least 1,098 hours of instruction this academic year.
The House passed an earlier version of the legislation, meaning it could reach Gov. Rick Snyder as early as next week.
It represents a potential reprieve for some districts, particularly schools in northern and western Michigan, that may have to extend classes later into June as winter weather led to more cancellations than usual — some as late as April. State law only allows six days to be canceled or else schools lose state funding, but some have gone over the limit.
For officials with the Morley Stanwood Community Schools, about 40 miles northeast of Grand Rapids, the legislation comes too late to offer much relief.
Superintendent Roger Cole said the district missed 15 days "between snow and ice and power outages," and he's left with at least six days to make up even if the three the district had to cancel after April 1 are waived.
"An hour ago, I sent out a mass email to all of our parents," Cole said Thursday afternoon. "I've made the decision we're going to be here through June 10 — even if the bill passes, because we need to make a decision to move forward."
Supporters of the legislation say family vacations and summer camps already have been booked for the weeks after school was supposed to end. And makeup days don't count unless 75 percent of kids show up, leaving school administrators worried too many families might decide to stick with their previous plans.
Morley Stanwood High School sophomore Shaelynn Saunders will have her family vacation and summer babysitting gig postponed.
"At the time it was good, but then we knew we had to add on," she said. "I'm just going to have to deal with it. You just have to come in — it's school."
Cole, who testified last week during a legislative hearing, said he was disappointed by language in the bill that requires districts to submit a report on how they used the extra instructional minutes each day.
"They trust me with 1,250 kids and $11 million," he said. "Why don't you trust me to use the minutes equally as wisely?"
Rep. Phil Potvin, a Cadillac Republican and sponsor of the House bill, said some districts have had a combined two to three weeks off from school so far because of the weather. He said schools should not be punished for events outside of their control, adding that his bill would keep schools from having to spend money to stay open and run buses more days.
The bill was amended in the Senate to also help schools affected by recent severe flooding in Michigan.
"It's only for this year," Potvin said. "We don't want to set a precedent here not knowing what's coming."