Many school districts will likely have to lengthen their calendars this year, but state lawmakers have voted to give them a bit of a break. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports on a bill that allows four calamity days that don’t have to be made up.
On average, Ohio school districts have cancelled nine days of classes because of weather this school year – but some districts have used as many as 17 calamity days. This bill would allow districts to have four more days that students don’t have to make up – but it would require teachers to make up two of those four. But several lawmakers argued that five calamity days already allowed in state law are enough, and that if education is a priority, any days beyond those five should be made up. Republican Mike Henne of the Dayton area said it seems to him that when basketball games and other sports events were off because of weather, they were only postponed – not cancelled entirely.
“We made up most of those sporting events because that’s important," Henne said. "But the education of kids is not. Come on, people. It’s time to make the tough decision and put our priorities first, or the kids first and get our priorities in line.”
Henne suggested classes be scheduled on Saturdays or during spring break, or could have been made up on Presidents’ Day. But Democrat Debbie Phillips of Athens, who said there have been so many snow days in her district that there have been only two full weeks of school since Thanksgiving, said opening school on declared holidays could be a problem because of contracts with year-round workers.
“It would cost them more to have them come in on Presidents’ Day than to have them come in an extra day in the summer," said Phillips, "So that school district made a financial decision to add a day in the summer instead of taking a holiday that would cost them more.”
But on the subject of money, Republican Lynn Wachtmann of Napoleon in northwest Ohio said not making up these extra calamity days throws away $460 million dollars in state and federal money spent on K-12 education. Wachtmann said most businesses are open even when school is closed, so if the kids can’t get to school, the teachers should be required to come in.
“Why can’t the rest of the education community come to work, and maybe learn something if that’s what they need to do?" Wachtmann said. "Why give them another two days to cheat the kids out of their academic education?”
Several lawmakers talked about the need for kids and teachers to be in class because of required tests. But Democrat Teresa Fedor of Toledo said school officials are well aware of the importance of tests, but that they need to not feel pressure to hold classes when the weather is truly dangerous.
“They don’t want children not to return home because the bus picked them up, went down a slippery slope, uncontrollable – all the sudden their child did not come home," Fedor said. "That is a priority.”
The bill passed overwhelmingly and now moves to the Senate, which has its own calamity days proposal. Whatever becomes law, it only stays in place for this school year. The calendar for next year measures class time in hours, not days, so districts have more flexibility in scheduling make-up days because of bad weather.