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Schools may add calamity days

Gov. Kasich wants to add days due to the unusual cold, snow this winter.

Ohio school districts will likely be allowed extra “calamity” days this academic year and given the flexibility to make up missed time by the hour, rather than by the day.

Gov. John Kasich announced Monday that he supports a one-time expansion of snow days to help Ohio’s school districts deal with the snow and bitter cold that has caused them to cancel classes and eat up their allotted five calamity days. He did not specify how many extra days should be allowed, leaving that detail to be worked out by the Ohio General Assembly and the Ohio Department of Education.

“I anticipate we will do this rather quickly,” said state Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

Lehner said an extra three days is being discussed. But a bill introduced Monday in the Ohio House would grant an extra four days.

Brent Speas, the director of student services for Mad River Local Schools, said the state’s decision will be “no different than calling off or not calling off school.” Mad River has used six calamity days.

“It’s a double-sided sword,” Speas said. “It’s a no-win situation either way. Not everybody’s going to be happy whatever the legislature decides. Everybody’s got their own opinion. … Adding a few calamity days on for all school districts would not be detrimental to anybody’s education.”

Lehner also said that legislators may speed up a change that was due to take effect next academic year: prescribing the number of instructional hours instead of the number of school days.

Starting next school year, districts will change to an hour-based schedule and will not have built-in calamity days. Districts will be able to bank extra hours and use them as needed for bad weather, power outages or other problems that lead to classes being canceled. High schools would have to be open for instruction for at least 1,001 hours. Anything less than that would have to be made up later or by using “blizzard bags” — essentially sending school work home with students.

Former Gov. Ted Strickland cut snow days back to three in an attempt to boost classroom time without significantly increasing costs. Kasich, however, unraveled that policy and switched back to five calamity days when he took office in 2011.

Clark-Shawnee schools has used seven calamity days, including Monday. Superintendent Gregg Morris said the district is considering three options for makeup days — Presidents Day (Feb. 17); adding time to the end of school days; and adding days to the end of the school calendar.

The district already has a “blizzard bags” plan in place to make up for its sixth, seventh and eighth calamity days, and began using it Friday, according to Morris. Students have two weeks to complete work that would make up for its sixth calamity day, and the district plans to assign work to cover its seventh calamity day either Feb. 7 or 10.

Morris said it’s difficult for makeup days to be as valuable as the original scheduled days because yearly assessments are completed and families have vacations planned.

“This is a unique year,” Morris said. “We certainly do not like to miss school and we certainly have concerns when we’re out so many days. In a winter like this, on a one-year basis, this is something that’s good to consider.”

The Hamilton school district is right at five calamity days. Historically, the district has added makeup days to the end of the school year, according to spokeswoman Joni Copas.

“Ultimately, every school district tries to make decisions for the safety of the children,” Copas said. “Most school districts around the state would appreciate a waiver.”

Huber Heights superintendent Sue Gunnell said the school board passed a resolution Monday morning to submit a plan to the ODE requesting blizzard bags for up to three calamity days. Blizzard bags would allow students the opportunity to complete lessons online at home or be given hard copies when they return to school.

Huber Heights is up to eight calamity days, through Monday.

“We all want kids in school, but we know we’re also dealing with unusual and extreme temperatures,” Gunnell said.

Fairborn also has used eight calamity days, and students and staff are made aware well in advance that days could be made up at the end of the year, superintendent Dave Scarberry said.

“Mother Nature is winning right now,” Scarberry said. “We’re not used to this kind of weather. I applaud (Kasich) for trying, and I think it will be successful.”

Ohio has 1.86 million K-12 students in 613 school districts.

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