The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

January 24, 2014

Brutal weather gobbles up Ashtabula County schools’ calamity days

Switch to instructional hours next year could help

School kids enjoying days away from classes because of winter weather may not be smiling as the summer recess get closer.

Snow and subfreezing cold in recent weeks has caused Ashtabula County school districts to tear through the five so-called calamity days most have built into their calendars. Of the districts contacted Thursday, three had already exhausted their supply for the rest of the school year — with winter only one month old. If they are obliged to cancel any more days, the missed time will have to be made up at some other point in the calendar, possibly cutting into the summer break.

Ashtabula, Buckeye and Conneaut schools all have exhausted their calamity days, spokespeople said. Geneva schools have used four of the five, while Grand Valley and Pymatuning Valley have used three each. Officials at Jefferson Area City Schools could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

This school year marks the last that districts will worry about calamity days. Beginning with the 2014-2015 year, districts will set their calendars by hours, not days, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

“The move will give districts more flexibility and help them make up time that’s missed,” John Charlton, ODE spokesman, said Thursday.

Starting with the next school year, districts will be obliged to meet a minimum number of classroom hours — not instructional days, according to the ODE website. Here are the requirements: half-day kindergarten classes (no less than 455 hours), full-day kindergarten through grade 6 (a minimum of 910 hours) and grades 7-12 (a minimum of 1,001 hours).

Districts can add hours beyond the minimums if they feel weather could play havoc with their calendars, Charlton said. For example, schools could add a half-hour to their day for a few days to make up time rather than intrude into their summer or holiday breaks, he said.

The region has certainly not seen the end of bad weather, and there’s an excellent chance more school days may be lost to Mother Nature. Generally, districts who forfeit more than five days are obliged to make up the missed days elsewhere in the calendar, Charlton said.

“State law requires 178 instructional days,” he said. “Most (districts) build five days into their calendars.”

However, there have been occasions when Ohio lawmakers — who have final say on such matters — have waived the instructional day minimum to avoid working a hardship on districts, Charlton said. “There has been precedent set,” he said.

That means State Rep. John Patterson and State Sen. Capri Cafaro can probably expect calls and correspondence from a bunch of summer-starved school kids if more days are ditched.

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