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School year may be extended

Alissa Widman Neese • Aug 27, 2014 at 2:41 PM

Almost every district in the Register’s coverage area has consumed all five of its allotted calamity days — and then some.

Now school leaders across Ohio, as well as Gov. John Kasich, are pleading for state lawmakers to grant them more free cancellations this year, given this winter’s relentless, frigid weather.

“School closures can, of course, be an inconvenience, but student safety always comes first,” Kasich said in a statement. “Giving schools a few extra snow days this year will be helpful and let everyone stay focused on the top priority when weather hits, keeping kids safe.”    

Temperatures hovered in the single digits most of Tuesday, but when accounting for wind chill, it felt like bitter double-digit negatives.

Every area superintendent apparently considered canceling Tuesday’s classes a no-brainer.

By about 9 p.m. Monday, all districts had called for another calamity day. By 9 p.m. Tuesday, many did likewise for today’s classes too.

Most districts haven’t hosted a complete week of classes since before Christmas, and officials aren’t afraid to admit the situation is rather unusual.

“In my 14 years as a superintendent, I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” Sandusky Schools superintendent Eugene Sanders said. “I’ve never had to cancel more than five days, but these extreme wind chills have really hampered our ability to have school.”

Each Ohio district is allotted five “calamity days” each year, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Students can miss school without making up any of those days, typically because of dangerous weather. Other conditions include disease epidemics, damaged school buildings or buses and utility failures.

A combination of weather factors determine if district officials will cancel school, including temperatures, ice, fog, snowfall, road conditions, weather advisories and neighboring district cancellations.

If a district cancels more than five days, however, they’re required to make up the missed time.

An estimated one-third of Ohio districts have already exhausted all their calamity days, according to state representatives.

As of Tuesday morning, local days off ranged from Bellevue Schools’ 11 cancellations to just five at Port Clinton and Vermilion schools and four at Put-in-Bay School.

To make up the additional days, districts plan to utilize a variety of options, with some tacking them onto the end of the school year and others sending students to classes on Presidents’ Day or in-service days.

Another opportunity: “alternative plans,” including online coursework, or “blizzard bags,” when a district sends a day’s worth of classwork home with students. Participating districts can make up three days using an alternative method.

Bellevue, Benton-Carroll-Salem, Danbury and Edison schools all signed up this past year to use alternative programs if needed, with several other districts looking to get on board soon.

Norwalk Schools approved a resolution at a school board meeting Tuesday night to pursue the concept for future calamity days.

“We don’t know what winter will bring, and it’s been tough enough already,” superintendent Dennis Doughty said. “Although the deadline to sign up has passed, the state has said it will recognize requests for blizzard bags for future days off if we turn them in now.”

In addition to make-up days and scheduling issues, this year’s numerous cancellations have many officials concerned about decreased classroom time — especially since students must complete several standardized state tests by specific spring deadlines.

Extra school days can also place financial burdens on districts, Kasich said in his statement Tuesday.

“In my opinion, the sooner we get back to our regular routine, the happier we’ll all be,” Sanders said. “The faculty will appreciate it, and I think the parents and students will appreciate it too.”

Next year, state law will require schools to log a certain number of classroom hours, rather than days. The move will allow schools to add time to existing school days to make up missed days, to avoid extending the school year. Most Ohio districts will already exceed the minimum hours required.

View the chart above to see how many calamity days your district issued as of Tuesday morning.

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