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Kasich calls on lawmakers to add calamity days to school calendar; districts also eye online alternative

By Doug Livingston
Beacon Journal education writer

With only half the academic year over and many area schools expected to exceed their number of allowable snow days this week, Gov. John Kasich has asked the Ohio Department of Education to work with the Legislature to develop options that would relieve schools from making up missed days in June.

“School closures can, of course, be an inconvenience. But student safety always comes first,” Kasich said in a news release Monday. “Many schools have already hit the maximum number of snow days, or will soon, and if they exceed it and have to extend the school year it can wreak havoc with schools’ budgets and schedules.”

Local school administrators say safety, and not cost, drives the decision to cancel school.

“We think about the 5-year-olds who have to walk to school,” Akron Board of Education President Lisa Mansfield said in response to some outraged taxpayers who have taken to social media to decry school closings.

Still, the governor is asking the Legislature and state education department to find alternatives to extending the school year. Forgiving snow days accumulated this January, one of the coldest on record, or extending the number of allowable calamity days beyond five — already upped from three by legislation passed in 2011 — are two options.

After accumulating six calamity days — as Akron did today and Cuyahoga Falls expects to do Wednesday — schools implement make-up plans.

Many — including Mogadore, Akron and Cuyahoga Falls — tack days onto the end of the year in June. But others are turning to an online alternative that allows students to take home makeup work, a move that the state allows to erase up to three accumulated calamity days.

Planning ahead

Before the school year begins, schools must submit plans to the state that detail how missed days would be made up. The deadline for that submission largely is ignored, however, and the state has waived the date. It’s still accepting plans today.

Akron’s plan outlines the dates, starting June 6, that days can be made up. Because labor contracts ensure teachers work a set amount of days, there would be little, if any, additional personnel expenses for extending the school year.

Plus, “our buildings are open anyway,” said Superintendent David James, noting that tutoring and after-school programs keep buildings open in the summer. Any cost for busing students in June largely would be offset by savings from not transporting students on snow days.

“I don’t think it’s a huge extra cost,” James said, adding that any additional expense due to extreme weather is “the cost of doing business in Ohio.”

Still, Kasich has asked lawmakers and state education officials to consider other options to avoid extended school years, including moving ahead with a proposal that would shift the academic calendar from instruction days to instruction hours. This would allow schools, for instance, to add a half-hour of instruction at the end of each day until additional minutes of instruction recoup excess calamity days.

Online alternative

Another option to avoid extending the school year is what the state calls “blizzard bags.”

Students are asked to complete take-home assignments to make up work missed during calamity days. The work is accessed from a school’s website. For students who lack Internet access or computers at home, assignments are printed and uploaded at school and can be completed there within two weeks.

Board members in the Lake and North Canton districts on Monday approved the use of blizzard bags in anticipation of missing more school this week and exceeding their allowed calamity days.

Plain Local Schools, also in Stark County, already has posted “blizzard bags” on its website.

“It is critical to the success of our students that they continue to receive information and instruction even when school is closed,” Superintendent Brent May wrote in a letter to district parents. “We feel this is the best plan to ensure that our students have access to the coursework they need during the regular school year without having to make up days in the summer.”

Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com.