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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Unprecedented Weather Closures Prompt Milwaukee School Calendar Changes

Lauren Sigfusson
Milwaukee's Third Ward after a January snowstorm.

After an unprecedented number of weather-related closures, Milwaukee Public Schools is adjusting its calendar for the rest of the school year. Feb. 19 was originally a staff-only day for professional development. But to make up for lost time, it is now a regular school day with students expected in class.

Superintendent Keith Posley says in his 30 years working in various positions with the district, he’s never seen this many school cancellations in such a short period of time.  

“It is very unusual,” Posley said. “I can remember a total of four [snow] days one year, and another year I can remember a total of three days.”

Schools across Wisconsin closed their doors at the end of January, when a polar vortex delivered dangerously cold temperatures. Snowstorms have also prompted districts to call off school, including one that hit last week.  

"The decision to remain open or closed due to weather is never an easy one," said MPS Superintendent Keith Posley.

Posley says the decision to cancel school is usually made in the early morning hours after checking with city public works, the transit system, and other school districts.

“The decision to remain open or closed due to weather is never an easy one,” he said. “We’re looking at the safety and wellbeing of our staff and students. We have to determine whether the streets are plowed, what time does the snow drop — there’s a number of factors that go into it.”

The state requires schools to provide a certain number of instructional hours per year. Posley says MPS could accommodate two or three snow days without making major adjustments. But six days, like this winter, is a different story.

Since MPS students are on three different calendars, the school schedule changes get a little confusing. For most students, school days will be extended by five minutes starting next week. For some high schoolers, 12 minutes will be added to the end of each day.

The last day of school for students is getting pushed back by one day. There are no changes to spring break. 

Teachers will get less time for professional development. Days originally dedicated to staff development, including Feb. 19, are now regular school days.

Amy Mizialko, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, says the calendar adjustments raise concerns for some of the district’s lowest-paid employees.

“It’s one thing to put forward a calendar that shows how students’ instructional minutes are going to be made up,” she said. “But there needed to be an accompanying budget adjustment that allowed for compensation.”

Mizialko says MPS paraprofessionals, who are salaried classroom aides, are now expected to work on a few days they originally had off, with no guarantee of additional pay. She’s also worried about hourly employees who went without compensation during snow days.

An MPS spokesperson says the district is working on a plan to "reconcile pay" for employees whose paychecks were affected by the inclement weather.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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