Students leave Gardiner Area High School as snow begins falling in February 2014. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

With winter far from over, several schools across central Maine have already had four or more snow days, prompting officials to consider ways to minimize the number of makeup days tacked onto the end of the school year.

Superintendents have not found a universal solution, and possibilities discussed at recent school board meetings have included adding hours to regularly scheduled school days or implementing remote learning days the next time the weather is too severe for students to get to their classrooms.

But remote learning days can cost a district thousands of dollars, and adding time on to a regular school day creates challenges with transportation and instruction. 

It is a thorny predicament for area schools.

In Maine, schools are required to offer 175 days of classroom instruction, for at least five hours a day, and provide lunch. If there is an interruption to a regular school day, the school district must make it up at a later date, which typically happens in June. 

This year, despite a mostly mild winter, the amount of snow days that some districts have called already pushes the last day of school beyond Juneteenth, a federal holiday observed June 19. That timeline further extends the school year, as districts cannot operate on national holidays.


While the COVID-19 pandemic forced districts to make remote learning possible, the option is made less appealing by the fact that schools are no longer reimbursed by the state for meals on remote days.

Funding for meals on remote days was only available when students were forced to stay home to avoid spreading the coronavirus. Now, for districts to be reimbursed for food, at a rate of $2.50 per meal, it need be consumed at school, according to the Maine Department of Education. 

“If an SAU (school administrative district) cannot meet those requirements, such as during a remote or abbreviated day, unfortunately the meal cannot be reimbursed through the National School Lunch Program,” said Marcus Mrowka, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Education. 

For the Winthrop Public Schools, that means instead of receiving $3,000 for food on a remote day, the district must pay that amount, Superintendent Jim Hodgkin told school board members at a Feb. 2 meeting.

Winthrop schools have used two late starts, two remote days and two snow days this winter. Hodgkin said remote days also can only be used in advance if schools can prepare meals to send home with students ahead of a storm. 

In Gardiner-area Maine School Administrative District 11, Superintendent Pat Hopkins decided to add an hour of school onto four planned early release school days and one regular-length day, to make up five hours that would count as a full five-hour day.


Hopkins sent a letter to families Feb. 7, after the school board gave her the ability to come up with a solution to the problem without having the board’s approval. It said Feb. 17 is the first date affected by the extra hour.

Like Hodgkin, Hopkins also discussed a remote day, but said the district would similarly have to pay $3,000 for about 1,250 lunches that were not budgeted. Additionally, with remote days, the bus drivers and the education technicians do not have work, raising the question of whether they would get paid.

By making the change, the last day of school in MSAD 11 is expected to be June 14, if no other storms interfere.

“We have done this before, so it is doable, but it creates some hardships,” Hopkins said at the Feb. 2 board meeting. “Some staff have second jobs, so when it goes an hour later, it creates hardships.

“It’s a pretty good option for parents, but it also makes a long day for elementary students. We say one more hour, but it can be tough on teachers and students.” 

The conversation also arose in Augusta, where Superintendent James Anastasio recently told the Board of Education the district is trying to determine what to do after having had three snow days. Officials have yet to arrive at a plan, and Anastasio said he is weary of having a remote learning day.

“We experienced in the past that remote days are not successful,” he said. “It would take a lot of snow days to convince me to have a remote day.”

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