On Tuesday night, Spring Lake Public Schools’ Board of Education voted 4-3 to authorize Superintendent Dennis Furton to apply for a six-day waiver to forgive additional snow days. The district will now end the school year June 7, the original final date.
Trustees Katie Pigott and Bruce Callen, Vice President Curt Theune, and Secretary Jennifer Nicles voted in favor of the measure. Treasurer Kathy Breen, President Jeff Lauinger and Trustee Dennis Devlin opposed it.
On May 10, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bill 4206 that forgives four school day cancellations that occurred during the state of emergency, which Whitmer declared Jan. 29 to Feb. 1 due to arctic temperatures.
By law, Michigan districts can cancel up to six days each school year. They can also apply for an additional three-day waiver.
Spring Lake accumulated 12 snow days this past winter.
In February, Spring Lake added five days to the calendar, which would have ended the school year June 14.
Prior to voting, Lauinger said that adding the days was, to him, a credit to the district’s educators. He said that any day students spend with educators is “time well spent.”
With a background in manufacturing and operations, Lauinger said the idea of speeding up a process and doing it as well as they normally would isn’t accurate.
“I think teaching is done best when a curriculum is followed, and it’s a credit to everybody in this room,” the school board president said. “There’s a real science behind what you do, so speeding up to get in a lot of material to make up a lot of days off is just tough to do.”
When the district added days in February, they didn’t have all the information and didn’t know about the decision the state Legislature would make to forgive additional days, Theune said.
In casting his vote, Theune said he looked at educational value. Instructional time in January, February and March is different than mid-June, he said. Theune noted that if school officials felt adding time lost was important, they should have pushed back Spring Lake High School’s graduation.
About 40 parents, educators and students attended Tuesday’s meeting. Before the board made its decision, some parents weighed in on the issue.
One parent, who said his two children have attended Spring Lake schools for the past nine years, told the board he disagreed with the June 14 ending. If the extra days were to accommodate educational time lost, the man said the days in June would apply to his high school daughter’s third trimester classes, and not the second trimester classes missed during the snow days. The man noted that both of his children received assignments from their teachers during the snow days.
Sara Troast, a parent who volunteers in the district and is a substitute teacher, asked the board to revert back to the June 7 date. A parent of a fourth-grader and sixth-grader, Troast said there would be “no educational value” in adding days, as testing is already underway and educators have worked to teach the standards and curriculum missed during the days off.
Troast also said there could be additional costs associated with extending the year and it could violate educators’ contracts.
Victoria Fogel, who said her two children attend Jeffers Elementary School, asked the board to consider low-performing students and students who have an individualized educational plans. Fogel said she has experience in working with children on the autism spectrum and she knows every day matters to those children.
Kelly Larson, whose daughter is a sophomore at Spring Lake High School, said the biggest question is about the difference in content being taught in the time added. If there isn't a difference, Larson said it should revert back to the June 7 date.
Larson, a former president of the Spring Lake school district’s foundation, said she was also concerned about the finances and cost spent on operations if the content being taught wouldn't be any different.
Following the decision, Fogel said she appreciated the thought the school board members put into making it, and allowing for transparency and public input. She said the close vote is telling that it was a difficult decision.
Grand Haven Area Public Schools plans to soon announce a decision for the end of its school year. Last week, district officials stated that they felt confident about the planned June 7 last day, but they were awaiting final details from the Michigan Department of Education before communicating with families.