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School districts looking at make-up days

1/30/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

GREATER AKRON — Schoolchildren may love it when school is canceled due to bad weather, but they may not be too happy now that many local districts have exceeded the five-day limit set by the state.

The result is that several Akron area districts are faced with extending their school year into summer or holding classes on days that were scheduled off — unless Ohio Gov. John Kasich is successful in getting the Ohio General Assembly to increase the number of calamity days allowed this year due to the extreme weather.

Kasich, in a press release issued Jan. 27, urged the Ohio General Assembly and Ohio Department of Education to work together on legislation providing a one-time increase in the number of days that public schools can take off for inclement weather. That effort comes as a change in Ohio law effective in the next school year replaces the minimum number of days in a school year with a minimum number of hours and eliminates the five calamity days.

At this point, districts are moving forward on plans to make up the days in excess of five they have called off due to this season’s harsh weather, which saw temperatures and wind chills below 0 degrees.

In the Akron Public School District, Jan. 28 was the sixth day of canceled school, meaning the district will have to start making up days at the end of the school year, according to Debra Foulk, executive director of business affairs. And one school, Bridges Learning Center, which had an additional day off due to another issue, will have to make up one more day than the rest of the district at this point, she added.

“The board has already approved the 2013-14 year and those makeup days,” Foulk said. “Our first set starts in June, and once we run out of those, we go into spring break.”

Because school also was canceled Jan. 29, at this point APS students will be required to attend classes on June 6 and 9, with Bridges students attending June 10, as well.

In Woodridge Local Schools, Superintendent Walter Davis said the district hit its fifth calamity day Jan. 28. The district used its sixth day Jan. 29, which means students will have school April 21, the day after Easter, which was originally planned as a holiday. Any additional days that need to be made up will be added to the end of the school year, on June 6, 9 and 10, according to the district’s calendar.

Revere Local Schools Superintendent Randy Boroff said that district used its third day Jan. 28. The district had an already planned in-service day Jan. 27, when many districts called off for the day, and officials held school as scheduled Jan. 24, also a day that many Akron area districts were closed.

Should Revere have to make up days, the approved calendar sets its first make-up day as Feb. 17, which is Presidents’ Day.

“We did that purposely, noting that standardized tests are in March and May, so we wanted to have as much time as possible,” Boroff said.

As for other districts, Highland Local Schools canceled classes Jan. 28 and 29, which meant it had used six calamity days. According to a statement issued by the district, to make up the sixth day, the district’s calendar now calls for school to be in session there on May 30, which was to be students’ first day of summer vacation.

According to the Norton City Schools’ calendar, calamity days used in excess of five will be made up at the end of the school year, starting June 6. Superintendent David Dunn said the district reached its fifth calamity day Jan. 28. A sixth day was added when schools in the district were closed Jan. 29.

In the Copley-Fairlawn City School District, calamity days in excess of five are made up at the conclusion of the school year, with June 5, 6 and 9 scheduled on the district’s calendar. A message left for Superintendent Brian Poe was not returned by presstime.

Next year, the issue of using up days may not be as much of a concern, several district officials said. House Bill 59 changes the minimum school year from 182 days to 910 hours for all-day kindergarten and grades one through six, and 1,001 hours for grades seven through 12. School districts will be permitted to count any time over the minimum hour requirement toward missed time due to canceled school.

Woodridge’s Davis said when that district started looking at its calendar and converting instruction time to hours instead of days, officials found that the district is well above the required number of hours.

“Currently, we’re in school 164 more hours than required,” Davis said. “So if you have a calamity day, there’s a lot of room.”

He said if a district does have to add to the number of hours because of many canceled days, the state will allow districts flexibility in how they do that. Hours can be added on by the day or as an additional day tacked on to the calendar, if needed.

The catch, he said, is that employee union contracts specify the length of the school day, so it may not be possible to simply add on to a school day.

In addition, APS’ Foulk said when districts have to provide busing to private and charter school students, the option to add on to the school days isn’t possible because of bus schedules.

Regardless of how things shake out this year, district officials said the decision to cancel school is not one that is made lightly.

“No. 1 is the safety of everybody,” Boroff said. “Usually that equates to road conditions, but this year we get the added bonus of wind chill. We don’t have a lot of walkers, if any, but waiting at a bus stop and walking in a parking lot, if you stand out there too long today, you’re going to feel it. Child care issues are something we are concerned with. To just at the last minute call off school puts a huge amount of stress on a family. Buses — we make sure they are ready to roll. And also the safety of our staff, getting in. All of that happens and all that discussion occurs in about an hour.”

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