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School districts looking at make-up days

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

GREATER AKRON — Schoolchildren may love it when school is canceled due to bad whether, 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.

Coventry Local Schools hit their sixth day off Jan. 28, according to Superintendent Russell Chaboudy. The district also canceled school Jan. 29. At this point, Chaboudy said the district is working on a plan to avoid having to use make-up days.

“We have a special board meeting Thursday, and the board could adopt a resolution that gives us the ability to send it to the state and use ‘blizzard bags,’” he said.

Blizzard bags are state-allowed packets of school lessons that students will complete at home. Chaboudy said if the board approves the resolution to use them, that could take away up to three of the calamity days used. The meeting took place after presstime Jan. 30.

If the district does have to make up days, it has set aside several Saturdays — April 26 and May 3, 10 and 17 — as well as June 2, a Monday at the end of the school year.

“In a worst-case scenario, we’ll have to use those Saturdays,” Chaboudy said.

In the Green Local School District, where students had their seventh calamity day Jan. 29, the use of blizzard bags has been considered, according to Julie McMahan, director of communications and community relations. District officials have not yet decided how to proceed on making up the missed days.

“We’ve not come to any conclusions yet, but the board and administration are currently looking at the options available to decide what will be best for the district,” McMahan said.

Discussion on the issue is planned for the Feb. 3 board meeting, she said.

McMahan added that even if the district decides against the use of blizzard bags this year, it could be an option in the future.

Manchester Local Schools hit their sixth calamity day Jan. 29. Superintendent Sam Reynolds said the district calendar states that any make-up days will come at the end of the scheduled school year. Currently, the last day of school for students is set for June 6.

Norton City Schools also reached its sixth day off Jan. 29.

“What a year it has been,” said Superintendent David Dunn.

To make up days, the district will use days following the last day of school on June 6, according to its calendar.

That’s also what Springfield Local Schools will do if need be. According to Superintendent William Stauffer, the district used its fifth day Jan. 29.

“We got lucky,” he said. “A couple of days when it was bad, the kids probably would have off, but we already had professional development days scheduled for teachers.”

In the Akron Public Schools district, Jan. 29 was the seventh 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.”

At this point, APS students will be required to attend classes on June 6 and 9, with Bridges students going on June 10, as well.

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.

Norton’s Dunn said most districts are keeping schedules similar to what they have now, and when the days are converted to hours, they end up with many extra hours that could accommodate school closings.

“We’re not anywhere near the state minimum,” he said. “You would have to have extreme conditions to get to that point of needing to add hours.”

If districts do need to make up hours, they have the flexibility to add them on to the school day or schedule an additional full day of school.

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

“[It might] look like the temperatures are good and it doesn’t look like much snow, but then you go out and find out that visibility is next to zero and the roads are snow covered and slippery,” Reynolds said. “If a bus slips off into a culvert, what have you got? It’s not worth it.”

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