Prolonged school closings due to power outages across Maine have educators debating whether to make up the lost time – more than a week, in many districts – or seek permission to shorten the school year.

A lack of electricity caused by last week’s ice storm and other problems, including a snowy November, have left many school districts with few remaining “snow days, ” or none at all.

As a result, educators must decide in the weeks ahead whether to make up the lost time or seek state permission to shorten the school year to less than the minimum 175 days required by law.

At the same time, many superintendents say they are worried how students will react to the long break and whether their educations will suffer.

Some schools have canceled midyear examinations due to the unexpected school closures. Some students may be distracted after a long break from classes. Some may be traumatized by the storm’s impact on their families and homes.

“This certainly is not a vacation time” for students, parents or educators, said Dean Baker, superintendent of a four-town school district north of Waterville. “The anxiety and the tension are building.”

Several districts decided Tuesday not to reopen schools until Jan. 20, to give utility work crews more time to clean up and restore power. Superintendents also hope the extended closing will give parents and staffers a chance to get their lives back on track before classes resume.

Public schools in more than 200 cities and towns were closed on Monday, according to the state Department of Education. In some counties, including Androscoggin, Oxford and Sagadahoc, all schools were closed. Almost all schools were closed in Kennebec and Franklin counties. Cumberland County schools are split, with western districts more likely to be closed. Most districts in York County are open.

In some cases, districts are dropping or postponing exams that were scheduled next week.

“We are not going to have midyears at Cony (High School) because that is a time-consuming process, ” said Augusta Superintendent Graham Nye.

Baker said his School Administrative District 49, in the Fairfield area, will postpone next week’s scheduled high-school midyear exams and fourth-grade Maine Educational Assessment tests to give students and staff time to get back into the swing of school life.

“If you bring kids in and ask them to do a writing sample now, all they’re going to write about is the storm, no matter what the topic is, ” said Superintendent Judith Lucarelli of the Gray-New Gloucester district.

“Some of the kids have been living in shelters. That’s not fun, ” said Lewiston Superintendent Robert Connors. “I’m sure there’s going to be a day or two (after classes resume) when the conversation will only be about what happened.”

Many superintendents said power has been restored to most or all of their school buildings. Still, classes are being delayed because downed or drooping power lines, tree-littered back roads and unsettled living conditions would make it difficult – even dangerous – to resume classes this week.

School officials noted that many educators are too busy trying to heat or protect their own homes to return to school now anyway.

That means many districts will use up their remaining “snow days, ” if they haven’t already. Snow days are days off built into the school year for winter emergencies.

Waterville Superintendent Ed LeBlanc said that city’s schools, which closed last Thursday and will not reopen until Tuesday, have no more snow days and they may have to make up five lost school days.

LeBlanc said he may recommend extending the school year to pick up the slack, but officials elsewhere are toying with shorter school vacations in February or April to avoid more school time during the summer.

Still others may ask state Education Commissioner J. Duke Albanese for permission to shorten the school year. Under state law, Albanese can grant such waivers on a case-by-case basis. An aide to Albanese said Tuesday that more than 15 districts already have asked about the waiver process.

“The commissioner is going to abide by the statute” and decide each case on its merits, said Michael Higgins of the state Education Department.

Local educators like LeBlanc agree that a blanket waiver from the state is unlikely.

“I would be surprised if something like that happened, ” LeBlanc said.

One reason: Maine’s 175-day minimum is one of the shortest school years in the country.

How students will behave when classes resume, and whether they will need help adjusting, also are open questions.

Baker, the Fairfield area superintendent, said some students long for school to reopen because they miss the extracurricular activities. Others want the security of a warm, well-lighted and familiar setting after days of coping with the storm’s aftermath in dark and cold homes.

Counseling will be provided if it is needed. At the very least, they said, students will need a little time together to rehash their experiences before they settle down to a normal schedule of classes and school activities.

In the meantime, some schools are opening their doors to residents who need showers and a place to get warm.

School Administrative District 15, the Gray-New Gloucester district, will provide day care for local youngsters from kindergarten through grade five today, Thursday and Friday in an effort to help working parents.

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