New ‘snow days’ system eases missed time for Butler County students

School closings last week and Monday proved an inconvenience for Butler County districts but don’t yet total up as an instructional impediment for local students’ learning, they said.

Area schools were closed Friday due to sub-zero wind chills that district officials cited as hazardous to students waiting for school buses or walking to school.

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Monday then saw icy road conditions that made transporting students potentially dangerous, prompting school systems to close again — some of which were scheduled to have their students back for the first day of classes after winter break.

But thanks in large part to a change in recent years to Ohio school law regarding districts formally allotted five “snow days” or “calamity days,” local school officials said the loss of two school days hasn’t substantially impacted their learning programs.

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That’s because a new procedure has been phased in recent years — installed in each of Ohio’s 608 public school systems according to when their latest teacher union contracts were renewed — that requires not a minimum number of days of classes each school year but rather a set total of classroom hours.

“Extra hours have been built into our school schedule to allow for days off when inclement weather or other emergencies force us to delay or close school. Our built-in time is equal to eight calamity days,” said Gina Gentry-Fletcher, spokeswoman for the 10,000-student Fairfield Schools.

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“We’ve gone from number of days in school to the number of hours required now by state law, which means that as long as we fulfill the minimum number of hours required in a school year, we will not have to make up any school time. The law states that our kindergartners must attend school at least 455 hours.

“This is the time allotted for half-day kindergarten, which is the only kindergarten program that we offer. Our first-through-sixth graders must attend school for 910 hours, and our seventh-through 12th graders must attend a minimum of 1,001 hours.”

Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for the 16,500-student Lakota Schools said districts plan for such closures.

“Our students attend school well above the minimum number of hours required by the Ohio Department of Education,” Fuller said. “As a result, our number of days missed would need to be in the double digits before we would need to make up hours.”

Still, school calendars – and the plans of school families – find such closures disruptive, said Scott Gates, superintendent of Ross Schools, which were scheduled to start classes Monday after its winter break.

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“Calling a calamity day on the first day back after a break is always inconvenient. Students, staff and families are ready to get back in the swing of the school day schedule after an extended break like winter break,” said Gates, whose district in rural Butler County has many, two-lane roads weaving through Ross Township, west of Hamilton.

“I’m sure backpacks, lunches and clothes were all ready for today, but superintendents are always going to make the call when student and staff safety is involved. Lessons and activities can always be pushed back to the next day or rescheduled.”

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