Corrections: This story was updated Nov. 21 to correct the second scheduled makeup date for Beaufort County School District. This story was updated Dec. 19 to correct the description of the numbers provided to the newspapers. Absence percentages shown reflect unexcused absences, not total absences.
For the first time in at least five years, Beaufort County School District held class last Saturday, a designated weather makeup day to recover the first of two days the district lost from Tropical Storm Irma in September.
About three in every 10 students — 15,316 of the district’s 21,501 total enrollment — had an unexcused absence Saturday, according to district records.
The district is still analyzing attendance figures, but for the sake of expediency, officials provided The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette with Saturday’s preliminary numbers, as well as those for the day before to provide context.
“Not having any experience with school on Saturdays, at least in the recent past, it was impossible to say what it was going to be,” district spokesman Jim Foster said Monday.
▪ Six percent of Whale Branch Middle School students were marked unexcused, the lowest in the district and even marginally lower than the day before, Nov. 17.
▪ Hilton Head Island High School had the highest unexcused absence rate, 42.5 percent, in the district.
▪ About 88 percent of teachers — 1,527 of 1,732 — worked Saturday. The day before, 92 percent were present.
▪ Seventy of the 377 district employees, including bus drivers, were absent Saturday. Nineteen were on Friday.
▪ More students showed up to school Saturday than the half-day held Sept. 8, the Friday before Tropical Storm Irma. On that day, 7,905 students were absent.
At a previous Beaufort County Board of Education meeting, superintendent Jeff Moss predicted high absenteeism.
Skye Hayes’ son was one of those missing from his desk Saturday.
Hayes’ family celebrates Thanksgiving the weekend before the Thursday holiday, so when the district’s makeup days were scheduled for last Saturday, her holiday was thrown into question.
“It killed my grandmother to have to call her and tell her my son had school that Saturday,” Hayes said. “So as a parent, I decided family time is important.”
Hayes said her son, who attends Pritchardville Elementary, hadn’t missed many days before she decided he could skip Saturday.
Schools made a concerted effort to dispel the idea put forth by some parents that the makeup day would be mostly movie-watching.
Earlier that week, Moss sent an email to district staff emphasizing the day should be treated like a weekday: “All instructional activities should be a continuation of learning and MUST fall withing the Standards. I plan on visiting as many locations as possible so I can observe first hand we are treating this day as any other school day.”
Bluffton Elementary School principal Christine Brown posted nearly a dozen Facebook Live videos for parents, taking them on a tour to different classrooms.
Okatie Elementary reported “421 owls” of the schools’ 616 students showed up for service projects and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) challenges.
Mossy Oaks Elementary held a “STEM Saturday,” and, in a Facebook post, outlined how each grade spent their Saturday. As a nod to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, first grade students built Mayflower ships and tested to see if the structures would sink or float. Third-grade students learned about simple machines, designed catapults and launched “pumpkins” to cap off their day.
The district’s proposed calendar for next school year does not designate any Saturdays as weather makeup days, though the Beaufort County Board of Education, which controls the academic calendar, has not yet voted on it.
State law requires three designated weather makeup days, but scheduling only one — or, as some districts do, none — in the fall can create complications if a tropical storm or hurricane hits, and multiple days need to be made up that semester.
That’s why the Beaufort County school board built four into each semester when it voted on the 2017-18 calendar last spring.
The issue, however, is limited flexibility within the fall semester for makeup days.
Unlike the spring semester, tacking days on to the end of the first semester doesn’t work well with the holiday break. High school students and teachers prefer to have final exams before what is typically a two-week break, so running the calendar into January also isn’t palatable. And state law does not allow districts to start school before the third Monday in August, leaving few legitimate options for the board to consider.
That’s why, for the first time since the 2013-14 school year, Saturdays became designated makeup days.
“It’s very difficult to establish makeup days that are going to make everyone happy when you have 22,000 kids,” Foster said.
Jasper County School District
Jasper County School District has held two of its three weather makeup days already, all of which are on Saturdays.
About 55 percent of students attended Nov. 11 and Nov. 18 makeup days. Both dates were half days, with elementary students dismissed at 11 a.m. and middle and high school students done at noon.
On an average day, roughly 92 percent of students attend, district spokeswoman La’Shanda Grant said.
Staff attendance on the makeup days was higher, with 92 percent working Nov. 11 and 88 percent working Nov. 18. A normal weekday staff attendance rate hovers around 97 percent, Grant said.
“We talked about it during our last school board session and wondered how to get more students to participate,” she said. “We are looking into ways to get (students) to participate more so hopefully that third day (attendance) is higher.”
The district polled parents last spring and found a slightly higher percentage in favor of holding makeup days on Saturdays as opposed to cutting into Thanksgiving, Christmas or spring breaks, she added.
Jasper County School District has their last makeup day scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 9.
Beaufort County School District’s second makeup day will be held Saturday, Dec. 16.
Some notes on how Beaufort County School District reported absence numbers for this story:
▪ A high school student was considered absent if he or she missed any period by noon Saturday.
▪ Friday’s high school absences slightly differ and represent all unexcused absences for any period that day.
▪ For elementary and middle school students, any unexcused absence counted for the percentage for either day.
▪ Riverview Charter School, while sponsored by the district, did not have school on Saturday and is not included in the district-wide numbers.