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Most school districts exceed calamity days

Most school districts in the region have exceeded the number of state allotted calamity days with several districts using 10 or more because of heavy snow and severe cold temperatures this winter.

How districts will make up those days is under debate by the Ohio House of Representatives which is considering whether to add calamity days or require students to make them up.

The House delayed a vote this week on extending calamity days, citing concern about cost and the number of instructional days students will miss.

The House is expected to revisit the issue Wednesday.

John Charlton, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said Gov. John Kasich, who supports adding days asked ODE to work with legislators and the department is available to help.

Making sure students meet the required minimum number of instructional days is important, Charlton said. He added that student safety is also a priority.

“We don’t want to force superintendents of local school districts to send kids to school on days when that would put them in danger,” Charlton said.

Charlton said ODE is providing flexibility to local districts in one area.

On Tuesday, ODE announced it would expand the testing window for the Ohio Achievement Assessments because so many districts have missed instruction time because of the weather.

The one-week expansion applies to the OAAs for grades three through eight.

David Estrop, superintendent of Springfield City Schools, welcomed the additional week.

The impact of this winter’s weather has been two-fold, Estrop said with missed six days being the first.

“The second issue though is not only number of days missed, but number of hours missed due to delayed starts. I haven’t calculated those, but we’ve missed a lot along with many, many other districts,” Estrop said.

If the legislature approves additional calamity days, Springfield which has missed 6 days would be in good shape, Estrop said.

Estrop said his bigger concern is the amount of classroom instruction students have missed. He said he is always trying to extend the school day and year to make sure Springfield students are learning what’s expected of them.

“As a result of us missing so much time this year, I’ve asked the teachers in the elementaries in particular to focus heavily on math and reading because those are the fundamental building blocks.” Estrop said. “So if other subjects need to take a second priority to reading and math, so be it.”

Sue Gunnell, superintendent of Huber Heights City Schools which has missed 10 days, favors the additional calamity days, saying there have been so many days when it was unsafe to try to get students to school.

“I think the potential for a couple extra calamity days would be helpful, but I understand that it’s important for everybody to be in school; there’s no question about that,” Gunnell said.

Huber Heights has made up two days by distributing “blizzard bags” of homework for students to complete on calamity days. The district has the option of using the bags for a third day if another calamity day is called.

Gunnell said she’s grateful to have the additional week for OAA testing.

Dayton Public Schools students have used seven calamity days this school year. Jill Moberley said the district favors adding calamity days.

“If lawmakers give schools more calamity days, we reduce our chances of extending the school year into to June, when professional development and extended-year programs for students begin,” Moberley said. “If necessary, we do have five days built into the current school calendar.”

Two to three calamity days would be added for this school year under the proposal being considered by the Ohio House. Representatives delayed a vote Wednesday. Members will take a week to consider the financial costs as well the number of days to add. There was also concern about the amount of time students would be out of the classroom.

The Senate is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on a separate proposal that would excuse high school seniors from makeup days that fall after their scheduled graduation dates.

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