After a spirited debate, the Ohio House passed a bill Wednesday waiving up to four extra calamity days for Ohio students, but requiring teachers to do professional development work on the third and fourth of those days.
The bill will be considered next by the Ohio Senate.
The vast majority of local school districts have already exceeded the state limit of five calamity days allowed without triggering makeup days.
If the House bill becomes law, schools would still have to make up any calamity days beyond the ninth day. They would have the option of making up days by adding a half-hour to each school day, knocking off a day for each five hours of elementary instruction or 5.5 hours of secondary instruction.
State Rep. Mike Henne, R-Clayton, argued strongly against the bill, saying people have their priorities backward. He said most schools have managed to make up postponed basketball games, but schools and legislators are arguing against making up school days.
Speaking on the House floor, Henne held up a recent newspaper article showing that 40 percent of Ohio high school graduates aren’t ready for college-level math or English. He asked why the state wanted to deal with that problem by giving students more days off school.
This winter has been the fourth-snowiest in the area’s history, and has featured 12 days with temperatures below zero. Schools have canceled classes for both reasons over the past three months.
The debate in the House touched on several issues, with supporters frequently coming back to safety.
“The safety and well-being of our children must be the top priority for our local school districts,” said State Rep. Brian Hill, R-Zanesville, a sponsor of the bill. “House Bill 416 will alleviate some of the pressure on school superintendents when they are deciding whether or not to cancel school because they have already used their allotment of calamity days. Concern about calamity days should never outweigh the safety of our children.”
But within 40 days, the weather won’t be an issue, leaving only the question of whether to make up the days that were missed.
State Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, said making up those days at the end of the school year would not be productive, as many children would end up just watching movies or having outdoor “field days.”
Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, was the most critical of the bill, saying the four extra waiver days meant the state “was throwing away $460 million with no academic return.” Some legislators pointed out that any school district could decide on its own to make up more days if it chose to.
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