<a href="https:\/\/mountainmedianews.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/13\/2015\/04\/200px-Map_of_West_Virginia_highlighting_Greenbrier_County.svg.png"><img class="alignleft size-full wp-image-11683" alt="200px-Map_of_West_Virginia_highlighting_Greenbrier_County.svg" src="https:\/\/mountainmedianews.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/13\/2015\/04\/200px-Map_of_West_Virginia_highlighting_Greenbrier_County.svg.png" width="200" height="178" \/><\/a>By Sarah Mansheim\r\nGreenbrier County public school students returned to school last Monday, returning for their \u201csecond first day of school,\u201d after breaking for the State Fair. This unusual schedule reflected the statewide mandate that all public school students attend 180 days of school each year. While the mandate has always been in place, the 2014-15 school year was the first time it was actually enforced, and many counties, including Greenbrier, were left scrambling to meet the mandate by keeping students in the classroom well into June.\r\nThe struggle to achieve 180 instructional days is due to the excessive number of snow days many counties have, thanks to the miles and miles of back roads throughout the Mountain State. Greenbrier County Schools missed 15 days due to snow and ice last winter.\r\nGreenbrier County Schools Superintendent Sallie Dalton said that breaking for the State Fair is a must, no matter what. In addition to showing livestock all week, many employees and students work at the fair every year.\r\n\u201cThe West Virginia State Fair is an important economic tool in the Greenbrier Valley,\u201d she said. \u201cIn order for the fair to run they have to have employees, and I have a feeling a lot of them come out of our ranks.\u201d\r\nShe also said that an early August start date was preferable to keeping the kids in school late into next summer.\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s easier to start earlier than stay later,\u201d she said, acknowledging that the Aug. 6 start date did take many Greenbrier County families by surprise.\r\nLast spring, the county conducted an online survey and two town hall meetings to gauge what families, staff and faculty members wanted most out of the school calendar. The verdict? Most people wanted things to remain largely the same: a long Thanksgiving and Christmas break with the possibility of reducing spring break should snow days pile up.\r\nThanks to the input, and the necessity of letting school out for the fair, Dalton and the rest of the board of education created a calendar that would accommodate the State Fair schedule, a full Thanksgiving break (widely regarded as \u201chunting week\u201d by staff and students) and Christmas break. Spring break will be reduced as necessary. But, that\u2019s not all Dalton did.\r\nLast spring, she joined several other counties in a request to the West Virginia Board of Education (WVBOE) to issue a waiver allowing the county to not fulfill 180 instructional days, particularly asking for days declared by the governor as \u201cState of Emergency\u201d days, to be waived. All waiver requests were denied.\r\nMore importantly, Dalton, along with other members of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators (WVASA), asked the state legislature to rewrite the law to allow schools to count accrued instructional minutes, instead of instructional days, to determine classroom instructional time.\r\nDalton explained that the WVBOE determines how many minutes school should be: 315 minutes for elementary students, 330 minutes for middle schoolers and 345 minutes for high school students. Dalton said that every school in Greenbrier County has more minutes per day than what is required under state policy.\r\n\u201cThat was started many years ago, in 1977 or \u201878. We had a couple bad winters, and administrators began lengthening the school day to make up for snow days\u201d in Greenbrier County, she said. Over the years, the days have been lengthened a bit more. Therefore, she said, even if students aren\u2019t in class for 180 days, they are still getting the same amount of minutes of instructional time as other West Virginia students who have shorter days but attend school 180 days a year.\r\nWhile there was a lot of support in the legislature for allowing instructional minutes to count toward classroom time, in the end, the law did not pass.\r\nBut, she said, she hasn\u2019t given up: she and the other members of the WVASA will continue to lobby the legislature for a change in the law.\r\nTwo state senators have already taken up the cause. Sen. Daniel Hall and Sen. Jeff Mullins, R-District 9, who represent part of McDowell, Raleigh and Wyoming counties, announced this week that they are championing accrued instructional minutes in the in the upcoming legislative session.\r\nNext spring, depending on what mandates are handed down from the legislature and the state board of education, the 2016-17 calendar will be made. Whether it will include another awkward start - an early August start day followed by a long break for the fair - remains to be seen. What Dalton is sure of is that the schools\u2019 mission will be carried out regardless of the calendar.\r\n\u201cRegardless of the calendar, what we\u2019re going to do in Greenbrier County is educate kids,\u201d she said.