School makeup days differ by district

Some switched to new hours system this year; others still follow old calamity day rules

Ohio law on school snow days is changing, but the next few winters could be confusing for local students and parents, as makeup-day rules will change in different years for different schools.

For years, Ohio public and private schools were required to schedule 178 days of instruction, and were allowed to miss up to five days due to snow or other “calamity,” but had to make up any days beyond those five.

A new law requires Ohio schools to be open for a certain number of hours of instruction each year, but most schools easily surpass that barrier, so legally, they wouldn’t have to make up snow days unless they missed 15 or 20.

The catch is that the new rules don’t take effect until the existing union contracts negotiated by school employees expire, which in some cases was this fall, and in other cases, isn’t until summer 2017.

In Butler and Warren counties, Hamilton and Monroe are two of the districts who have enacted the new rules for the 2014-2015 school year, while the Mason City School District will be waiting until their union contract expires in 2015 for the hours system to be automatically included in contracts going forward, meaning another winter using the old “five calamity days” rule. Other districts fall somewhere in between.

“It will be interesting to see how (the new system) is applied,” said Tracey Carson, spokeswoman for Mason City School District, which is opting to keep the five-day system until its current contract expires in June 2015.

“What will be nice for us is that there are going to be colleagues who use the system this year, so we can see how things go, (and) reap the benefits,” she added.

The new law requires a minimum of 1,001 hours of instruction for grades 7- 12, at least 910 for all-day kindergarten through sixth grade, and at least 455 for half-day kindergarten. That minimum won’t be difficult to reach, several school officials said.

Counting hours in the contract

For students in seventh through 12th grades, it’s 1,001 hours and slightly less for seniors, who will finish the year before the other grades, just as they have for many years.

Lakota Local School District, which took nine calamity days last school year, embarked on the new system this school year after a new union contract went into effect.

The district’s current schedule calls for 1,029 hours for grades K-6; 1,074 hours for grades 7-8; 1,088 hours for grades 9-11; and 1,070 hours for grade 12, school officials said.

“Our schedule calls for more hours than required, so we hopefully won’t have to adjust the calendar mid-year, the way we have in other years” due to calamity days,” said Randy Oppenheimer, spokesman for the district.

An important part of the rationale behind the new system is to give schools more flexibility, said Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia.

“They can schedule more hours than required, as we do, and know they have a reserve to use before they have to begin making days up,” Mantia said. “If they do have to close for a lot of calamity days, they could theoretically add more hours to the school day, though I can tell you the logistics of doing that are not simple.”

Hamilton City Schools spokeswoman Joni Copas said the district felt it was in “pretty good shape” since the new rule was enacted, as they already exceed the new minimum number of required school hours.

“(The new rule) really wasn’t too much of a concern for us,” she said. The district approved a new three-year contract on Nov. 3. It had eight calamity days last year, and as a result tacked three extra days onto the 2013-2014 school year.

Monroe City Schools also took eight calamity days last year, said district business manager George Long. Their last union contract was negotiated this past summer.

“As a district, (the new law) is not changing how or when we make the decision to close or open school,” he said. “This decision has always been based solely on safety. The new law will not change that as a priority.”

Sticking with the days

Schools that look like they’ll fall short of the minimum hours can also just do what’s been done before, and add more days – counting each hour — to the end of the of the school year.

Monroe was one of the few school districts open on Monday , with only a two-hour delay, Carson said. Since they’re still counting days, the delay doesn’t count against them in any way. The district also only took five calamity days last year, the least of the school districts who responded to the Journal-News.

Madison Local School District spokeswoman AJ Huff said they were about 20 days beyond the new minimum school year.

“We plan to require students to make up days after we have missed five days, much like the old laws, “she said. “If we get into a situation where we are required to make up hours, we have an approved plan from the state which will allow us to make up the equivalent of three school days through online lessons.”

Though Madison Local School District’s current contract is based upon school days and not hours, and expires in June 2017, the district continue to count days and hours when it comes to calculating the school year, Huff added. The eight calamity days in the 2013-2014 school year did not cause too much distress, either.

“Because we had an approved calamity day make up plan in place, we were able to make up the three days in excess of the law through online lessons,” she said.

Getting ready

Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said school districts with ongoing contracts can still opt-in to the hours system if they want to make the switch now.

Talawanda School District decided to implement a 90-minute delay system while maintaining the calamity days until their union contract is up in 2016, said spokeswoman Holli Morrish.

Talawanda previously functioned on a one or two-hour morning delay system unless the weather called for a full day off. The two-hour delay caused transportation and attendance issues for programs that ran a half day, including the half-day kindergarten and Butler Tech-affiliated programs, but converting to a 90-minute delay ensured that those programs would continue running unless a day off was called for, Morrish said.

“Knowing that minutes are what counts, we went ahead and made the changes that we would have put in next year,” she said.

Fairfield City Schools used seven calamity days last year. Though their union contract doesn’t expire until June 2017, they implemented the new snow hours this school year, according to district spokeswoman Gina Gentry-Fletcher.

“We will make up days off for inclement weather if we are in danger of falling below the state required minimum hours of instruction,” she said.

Staff writer Jeremy Kelley contributed to this report.

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