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Many schools have used all of their calamity days

Clark, Champaign districts have options to make up class time.

Most local school systems have reached or surpassed their limit on state-allotted calamity days just 19 days into the winter.

The Springfield News-Sun reached 12 of the 16 Clark and Champaign school systems, and nine of those 12 are at or above the limit.

“Any time you miss days before Christmas, there’s a concern,” said Southeastern Superintendent David Shea. “We had three before Christmas, so that’s not good. And I can’t remember the last time we missed because of the cold like we did” Monday and Tuesday.

Districts can make up days by canceling planned time off, tacking on days at the end of the year, adding time to each school day, or using online lessons or homework on their next days off.

Urbana has had three calamity days so far, while Springfield City and Emmanuel Christian each have four. Greenon, Mechanicsburg, Northeastern, Shawnee, Southeastern, Tecumseh and West Liberty-Salem are at their limit of five. Two Greenon buildings have an extra day above and beyond other buildings in the district as the high school was closed one day for repairs and Hustead Elementary School lost electricity for one day.

Meanwhile, Graham has used six, and already has one day it must make up, while Northwestern leads the area with seven calamity days.

“The reason we are above everyone else is we adjusted our calendar because we moved into the new schools,” Northwestern Superintendent Tony Orr said. “We tried to bring the kids back on the 2nd and 3rd (of this month) because of that.”

Orr said Northwestern will be in session on Presidents Day (Feb. 17) to make up one of the days, then will add the rest of the remaining days to the end of the school year.

“The nice thing is because of the community’s support of our new school facilities, our classrooms will be in air conditioning when the days get warmer,” said Orr.

All area schools were closed Monday and Tuesday but were hopeful to be back in session today.

If school districts exceed the five-day maximum, they have four options, according to Mike Dittoe, communications director for the Ohio House Republican caucus and Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina:

Make up days over the five-day allotment; seek special dispensation from the General Assembly to allow for additional calamity days; offer online classes; or send students home with “blizzard bags” of homework to complete the next time there is a calamity day.

There are as many variations in the local school systems’ make-up day plans as there are systems, it seems. Most systems would add days at the end of their school year in June, if needed. Springfield has five days (June 2-6) officially designated as possible make-up days. Tecumseh would also tack on all make-up days at the end of the school year.

Others have plans in place to minimize losing those summer days off. Like Northwestern, Shawnee could choose to use Presidents Day. Greenon and Graham can use two days of their planned spring break, and Southeastern can use as many as four. Emmanuel and Mechanicsburg also have spring break days as part of their make-up plan.

Northeastern has a teacher conference day next month (Feb. 14) and Good Friday (April 18) on its calendar as make-up days. And West Liberty-Salem has five dates (Jan. 17, March 24, 25, May 30 and June 2) on its calendar as potential make-up days.

An option available to Ohio’s schools are blizzard bags, an option Clark-Shawnee plans to use.

“One thing we’ll do is we have the blizzard bags online program for three days,” said Superintendent Gregg Morris.

Other schools have not chosen to use blizzard bags. Some simply don’t like the concept.

“We’ve done a lot with our technology here, and quite frankly we didn’t have that capacity at the beginning of the school year,” said Lou Kramer, Northeastern’s superintendent. “But to be honest, we didn’t think that would be the best option educationally for us.”

For others, it simply didn’t fit the blueprint of their educational plan.

“We have discussed those in the past, but we’ve not decided that this makes sense for us,” said Kim Fish, Springfield City Schools communication consultant. “Internet access is important. Plus we try not to do a one-size-fits-all education while they are at school, and we don’t want to do that when they go home.”

Others are watching to see if it works for area districts.

“We’re kind of waiting to see if it is successful in other districts,” said Tecumseh Superintendent Brad Martin. “It requires a lot of things. There’s a lot of logistics to be figured out.”

And others aren’t ruling out in the future.

“We really value the instructional hours in the classroom,” said Greenon Superintendent Dan Bennett. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t revisit it down the road.”

Southeastern’s Shea pointed out that next year there won’t be calamity days but calamity hours to make up, which might make blizzard bags an even less attractive option.

Calamity days will be eliminated as part of the new state law that takes effect. The new Ohio law will replace the minimum number of instructional days in a school year (178) with a minimum number of hours — depending on the grade level.

According to John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, the new law “allow(s) school districts the flexibility to implement innovative programming in the most efficient manner.”

“I think I’d have 10 days worth of calamity hours because our days are normally longer than what the state will require,” said Southeastern’s Shea. “I don’t know if there are any districts that aren’t (going to have more hours in their school day than the state will require). ”

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