Why Ohio's 'Calamity Days' Bill Dragged on for So Long

A snow plow works the roads in Solon, near the 422 and 91 intersection (photo by ideastream's Brian Bull)
A snow plow works the roads in Solon, near the 422 and 91 intersection (photo by ideastream's Brian Bull)
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As both the snow accumulation totals and the days that districts cancelled classes climbed into the double digits this winter, there was growing frustration with the school calendar that lay ahead. And as state lawmakers considered how many extra calamity days to extend to schools, a question started developing in the Republican-dominated legislature.

State Rep. Lynn Wachtmann of Napoleon in northwest Ohio expressed it on the floor of the Ohio House.

“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?”

The calamity days bill gave students four days off that don’t have to be made up. But the House version required teachers to make up two of those days with professional development – the Senate version demanded one make-up day for educators. But teachers say a snow day is no day off.

Rachel Bishop is a kindergarten teacher in Georgetown in Brown County in southwest Ohio -- and a mother of three kids who would also be home if school is cancelled.

“I get up early in the morning at the same time I normally do while they’re sleeping and I go through materials and plan out lessons," Bishop said. "So it is not a day of sit up, put my feet up. It’s a day of, OK, great, I get to work and get maybe caught up on a little bit of all that I’ve gotten behind on.”

Melissa Cropper heads the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the smaller of Ohio’s two teachers’ unions. She says Bishop’s snow day activities are typical.

“I think what these conversations leave out are all the hours that teachers work above and beyond what they’re paid for already," Cropper said. "It’s important to remember that these are salaried positions, and maybe on a snow day, there might be an hour where they’re not doing school work or something, but they more than make up for that time throughout the course of the year when they’re doing their job.”

School officials argued that some teachers were involved in online teaching on snow days, and many others prepared so-called “blizzard bags” for students to work on at home.

Damon Asbury with the Ohio School Boards Association said the arguments about teachers making up days didn’t make sense to his members.

“I’ve had some superintendents and board members say to me, well, if the teachers are coming in, then let’s bring the kids in," Asbury said. "Let’s make up the instructional time.”

In the end, Republican House Education Committee chair Gerald Stebelton of Lancaster said the teacher make up requirement was dropped because senators didn’t like it, and because, as he noted on the House floor as yet another storm was coming across Ohio during the vote, the weeks-long debate over the bill had to end.

“Mr. Speaker, it’s snowing outside," Stebelton said. "We need to pass this immediately.”

Many districts have used more than a dozen calamity days, so even with four additional forgiven days, there are still plenty to make up. Students in some parts of Ohio will have to do work from those blizzard bags over spring break to make up lost days, and some districts have expanded half-days to full days, and may add an extra half hour onto the school day to avoid extending the calendar into summer.

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