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What a calamity

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

An onslaught of winter weather is poised to pummel the region again, and school officials statewide are left hanging in a state of limbo.

Because of brutal weather and below-freezing temperatures throughout most of January, almost every area district has exhausted its five permitted calamity days — and then some. After five cancellations, districts are required to make up the missed time.

Their calendars are now at the mercy of state legislators, who are expected to vote as early as Feb. 12 on a plan to grant districts four more free cancellations this year.

Until then, educators know at least one thing for certain: It’s not over yet.

The area will be under a winter storm warning from 7 p.m. today until 5 p.m. Wednesday, with snow accumulation ranging from 6 to 10 inches. Low visibility, high winds and poor driving conditions mean many area districts will likely cancel classes again Wednesday.

All districts have plans in place to make up for lost time, but even those have uncertainties.

Most recently, Sandusky Schools announced this past week it will host classes Thursday instead of an initially planned in-service day. In a press release, the district said the day will not count as a makeup day because of restrictions Ohio Department of Education representatives communicated to school officials earlier in the week.

After the Register contacted the department on Monday, however, spokesman John Charlton confirmed there are no such rules.

Locally, for example, Bellevue Schools used a planned in-service day on Monday for a regular day of classes.

“It’s no problem whatsoever to make an educational day an instructional day,” Charlton said. “All districts report their instructional days at the end of the year”

Sandusky Schools superintendent Eugene Sanders plans to contact the department today about the miscommunication. As early as today, the district could possibly convert Thursday into a makeup day, shortening the school year by one day in June, he said.

“The verbal communication we received is that we were not allowed, and obviously we would not have gone public with that position if we had been told differently,” Sanders said. “If necessary, we will resend communication to our parents based on the new information we’ve received”

Currently, the only method the state would not allow school districts to make up canceled days this year is lengthening an individual school day for a period of time, Charlton said.

Future legislation could allow for a one-time exception this school year, but it will become a permanent option next school year. At that time, the state will require schools to log a certain number of classroom hours each year, rather than days.

Until then, schools can make up the lost days using in-service days, holidays, spring break and “alternative plans,” which include utilizing online coursework or sending assignments home in “blizzard bags.” Choosing an option is an entirely local decision.

Of the 16 schools in the Register’s coverage areas, seven plan to tack on extra days to the end of their school calendars. Four have “alternative plans” in place, while three recently approved plans for future calamity days, taking advantage of an extended state deadline. Three also plan to host classes on Presidents Day, if necessary.

As of Monday, local calamity days ranged from 11 cancellations at Bellevue Schools to five at Port Clinton Schools. Put-in-Bay School, which has canceled classes four days, is the only local district that hasn’t used all five of its allotted days this year.

Note: This article is updated from a previous version, which indicated Perkins Schools would use an in-service day Feb. 14 to makeup one of its calamity days.

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