No more ‘snow days’: Why Ohio’s school schedules stopped tracking days lost to weather

Three school days lost last week to dangerous cold and snow could have been worse on schedules if Ohio schools still had “calamity days,” area school officials said.

The old statewide rule of allowing five calamity school days for all of Ohio’s 613 school districts was changed in 2014 to give more control to districts in handling their calendars. Because of that, local students and their families won’t see much of a change in the remaining school year, said local school officials.

Under the old system, some area districts would be nearing their five-day limit for days off due to weather or other problems. For example, a water main break Monday morning at Lakota West Freshman School saw not only that building closed for school but also the adjacent Creekside Early Childhood School and the Lakota Career Academy that all share the same campus.

But Ohio schools since 2014 have been allowed to create their school district calendars, as long as they meet a minimum number of classroom hours in a year. Almost all pad their school-year schedules to handle days lost to inclement weather.

School districts were allowed to add as many instructional hours as the operations of their local school systems could accommodate, while also taking into account labor union contract restrictions.

So last week’s lost school days are easily handled, said officials from Lakota Schools, which is the largest district in Butler County.

“Lakota’s academic calendar takes possible calamity days into consideration. Our students attend well above the minimum number of hours required by the state,” said Betsy Fuller, spokesperson for the 16,500-student district.

The Ohio Department of Education requires 910 hours each school year for students in full-day kindergarten through grade 6 and 1,001 hours for students in grades 7-12.

Lakota requires a minimum of 1,126.74 classroom hours for grades 1-6 and 1082.24 hours for grades 10-12.

Dawn Gould, spokesperson for Kings Schools in southern Warren County, said changing from “snow days” to instructional hours “allows for flexibility for local districts and it somewhat takes the worry out of the (former) number of days restraint.”

“It is also helpful because it allows a move from a one-size-fits-all to what works best for our local districts,” said Gould, who added that Kings’ grades 7-12 go 136.5 hours more than required by the state.

“The district has a substantial built-in reserve to accommodate multiple delays or closures each school year if needed,” she said. “Should we, at some point, fall below the required minimum hours due to unscheduled school closings or delays, additional hours/days will be added to the current schedule. Hopefully, that will never be the case.”

According to the Ohio Department of Education, “if a school closes enough that it will fall below the minimum number of hours, the school must extend its scheduled year.”

But school families will get plenty of notice if that happens, according to ODE’s policy stating “a traditional school district board of education (not applicable to joint vocational school districts) must hold a public hearing at least 30 days prior to adopting its school schedule.”

The weather also impacted schools because it led to the cancellation of after-school activities and rescheduling of school athletic games.

“Any elementary and middle school activities would have been cancelled,” said Joni Copas, spokesperson for Hamilton Schools.

“But the high school looks at each of their events and activities individually. We were able to play Hamilton High School basketball games this weekend,” said Copas of the school that last month also lost an additional school day to a water main break.

The near-record cold also impacted many beyond school campus boundaries. Several Butler County restaurants closed Wednesday because of the bitter weather, and many of them that opened reported softer sales.

Duke Energy officials said it’s too early to determine if customers’ utility bills will be higher because of the cold snap.

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