Last updated: February 04. 2014 10:25PM - 1714 Views
By Heather Meade hmeade@civitasmedia.com

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Around the same time Ohio Governor John Kasich began expressing a need for additional calamity days for Ohio schools, two state representatives were busy setting things in motion at the Statehouse, Rep. Richard Adams (R-Troy) commented.

“I think we’re looking at four additional days for this year only. They say that about a third of the state’s districts have already used five or more days; and of course the groundhog says we have six more weeks of winter, if you believe the groundhog,” said Rep. Adams. “There’s one thing about the inclement weather, it wasn’t just a certain part of Ohio, it was all over the state in varying degrees – everyone is well aware of the weather we’ve been having. I would imagine there would be substantial, bi-partisan support for the additional days.”

According to Rep. Adams, with schools moving from days to hours next year, additional calamity days will be a nice transition, giving districts more flexibility. And even with four additional calamity days, there’s no guarantee districts won’t have to add days to the end of their academic year, Adams pointed out.

“There still may be the necessity to make up days, even with the four additional days,” Adams commented. “We’re in the same position as weather forecasters; they don’t always get it right, so who is to say whether four days will be adequate based on what we’ve experienced already and realizing we’ve got a four to six weeks of winter left.”

The ultimate goal for educators, state legislators, and Governor Kasich is student safety, but there is still a concern about the instructional time students will be missing out on, said Adams. One Darke County superintendent agreed that he and his staff are concerned about that, as well.

“We’re concerned - the staff, the students, our administration - about instructional time. They (students) learn the best by being here at school with the great staff that we have. If we miss another four days, how much will the kids be missing?” Superintendent Aaron Moran, Versailles Exempted Village School District, commented.

With the House set to vote on the bill next week, it’s still unsure what the fate of Ohio students, teachers and educational administrators will be this June, but other county superintendents feel that the instructional time has already been lost, and are appreciative of Gov. Kasich and Ohio legislators’ efforts to alleviate some of the stress of adding days to the end of the year.

“I think some unique circumstances sometimes call for unique measures. In this situation, I appreciate Gov. Kasich’s efforts. Our number one priority is keeping the kids safe,” stated Superintendent Josh Sagester, Tri-Village Local Schools. “I don’t think this is something that’s needed every year; obviously this is a unique winter and has been difficult on our faculty and students. I think keeping safety in mind is extremely important.”

School districts also had the added benefit of being able to request blizzard bags/e-days after the August deadline, which provides students take-home or downloadable work to keep their minds sharp while they’re stuck at home in inclement weather, said John Charlton, Ohio Department of Education (ODE).

Arcanum-Butler Schools didn’t originally apply for blizzard bags in August, said Superintendent John Stephens, but decided when the ODE opened applications again, that it was a viable option for the district. Not all districts have opted to apply for those days allotted by the Ohio Department of Education, however, said Jim Atchley, superintendent for both Mississinawa Valley and Ansonia Local Schools.

Mississinawa does have the added benefit of three blizzard bag days, though they’ve used them already and are now looking at adding days at the end of the year dependent on the weather in the coming months and the passage of an additional four calamity days, Atchley said.

Ansonia, however, does not have those additional days, though Atchley may bring the idea to the board at February’s regular meeting. In the past, Atchley said that Ansonia has added instructional hours to the end of the school day, allowing them more time for standard testing prep, and that option was “pretty well received” last time.

“It’s been a difficult winter; and we’re still pretty early into the winter season,” Atchley noted. “Traditionally, most of our snow days are in the month of February, and I’ve even had to close in April and May due to fog, so even if we get an additional four days, there will still be days that probably need to be made up, either through the course of the year, or at the end of the year. We still have a long way to go.”

Gov. Kasich suggested that the ODE work with legislators to “provide relief” to school districts, Charlton commented, essentially letting superintendents know that they shouldn’t base closings on how many days they may have to make up, but should focus on the safety of their students.

“The top concern after safety, is of course instructional time, and making sure that students are getting the education they deserve,” said Charlton. “We want to make sure that students get the appropriate amount of classroom time, but at the same time help to provide some relief (from Ohio’s weather).”

The concern for students’ education may be what prompts a few members of the House to vote against expanding calamity days, Rep. Adams noted, but there is prominent support among both parties, currently, to pass the bill when it comes to the floor next week.

“I think it’s important that we have the opportunity as legislators to sit down and talk with the superintendents, because they’re most familiar with the thinking of their boards and staff,” said Rep. Adams. “I would prefer, to the greatest degree possible, that the additional calamity days be optional for districts…I still think the best decisions about the school are made in the community by those who have the responsibility to make them. Having said that, I think for some school districts, having these extra four days, if it stays that way in the Senate, is a tool they might need.”

Following a vote on the House floor next week, provided the bill is passed, it will move to the Senate floor, and if passed there, go to Gov. Kasich’s desk for signature into law, Adams said.

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