Education commissioner Pam Stewart offers Florida schools two days for Irma

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Florida school districts that closed before, during and after Hurricane Irma received some slight relief Tuesday from the state Department of Education.

Commissioner Pam Stewart advised superintendents that she would waive two days from the state requirement that districts hold 180 days of classes.

Read her full letter for more details.

Most districts, however, used several more days than two. Pasco schools took off six, while Hernando, Pinellas and Hillsborough took seven.

Some districts in South Florida missed even more.

If they can’t work out their schedules with the two-day waiver, Stewart wrote, the districts would have to make a formal request to her department by Oct. 16. And they’d have to meet some stringent requirements, as set forth in state rule.

To gain additional approved time off, she explained, the districts would first have to make up the time by using all but three teacher planning days over the course of the school year. They also would have to lose any school holidays that aren’t authorized national or state holidays.

Around the Tampa Bay area, that could mean the shortening of the Thanksgiving break, which has become a week for most districts.

School district officials reacted to the news with cautious support.

Hearing the news during Tuesday’s School Board meeting, Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins said it is possible that the two free days will enable his district, which keeps students in school longer than the state requires, to avoid adjusting its calendar. He was fairly confident that elementary schools will have enough hours, but was not sure about high school.

"Certainly, we want to maximize instructional time," he said. "But we also know that there are challenges any time you put days back on the calendar, with attendance."

Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego said he would seek input from the district’s calendar committee next week on how to make up the remaining five school days.

"We’ll have to do some calculations and see where we stand," he said. "I can’t imagine not making up some days."

Pasco County assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley said his staff has been reviewing minutes remaining in the 2017-18 calendar since Monday, to see if the schools could meet state requirements having missed six days.

The elementary schools generally fared well, Shibley said. More problems arose over the credit-earning rules for high school courses, and the time needed to complete a middle school course.

Now that the state has offered its waiver, he said, the district might come close by simply using those two days and implementing some of its pre-scheduled hurricane makeup days.

"We’re hoping to have something by the end of the week," he said.

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