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Bill may save summer vacation days for students

By John Published: March 5, 2011

Dave Scott
Beacon Journal staff writer

Barring any additional calamities, area students might avoid a shortening of their summer vacation.

Most schools are well beyond the allowed three ''snow days'' this winter, but an Ohio senator is confident he can pass a law boosting the limit to five days and giving schools more tools to avoid adding June days to the school calendar.

''I think it's going to make it,'' said Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, sponsor of Senate Bill 18. ''I think it's going to pass and make it this year.''

There are a lot of young people who hope he's right, because those fun days playing in the snow could otherwise turn into sweltering June afternoons listening to lectures.

Bad weather and a change promoted by former Gov. Ted Strickland created a perfect storm of what educators call ''calamity days,'' school closures because of weather, building failures, epidemics and problems with school buses or other equipment failures.

First Strickland changed state policy to require that any more than three calamity days must be made up. The rule previously had been five days. Then a tough winter left most schools well over the limit and looking at adding June school days to make them up.

Strickland said he was trying to preserve as many days of education as possible and many educators agreed with him, but wintry circumstances are making them see both sides.

''That's the irony, right?'' said Joe Clark, assistant superintendent at Nordonia Schools. ''You hear people comment all the time about how the U.S. has a shorter school day than the rest of the world, but you take a couple of school days and the whole American idea, the romanticism of the snow day takes precedence over the longer school day.''

Like most area districts, Nordonia is over the limit with six snow days, none of which has been made up. Without the legislation, the district would add days after the planned June 8 vacation bell.

Other school districts would make up days during spring break.

Parents sometimes complain about the child-care inconveniences of snow days while also opposing adding days in June.

''I don't think it is the baby-sitting aspect,'' said Clark, '' I think it just is the American tradition of a summer vacation.''

Grendell's bill also would give districts some flexibility in making up time when calamity days exceed five.

The minimum school day in Ohio is 5.5 hours for grades 7-12 and the new legislation would allow some days to be made up incrementally by keeping students in schools for longer shifts.

The bill also allows schools to set up online instruction to be done on calamity days in lieu of make-up days. That provision, however, is not available this year because it must be set up as part of the school calendar established in the summer.

Grendell's bill does have its limits. ''As long as it's eight [days] they will be OK, but if they get to nine they will have to add days,'' he said.

However, many schools contacted by the Beacon Journal with six or more calamity days say they expect to use make-up days even if the legislation passes.

One controversial provision of the bill requires schools to provide transportation to charter and parochial schools even when the public schools are closed.

''We have some concerns about that,'' said Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for Ohio School Board Association, ''because if you deem it unsafe to provide transportation to your public school students, by the same token it should be unsafe to be transporting other kids.''

A House version of the bill would allow charter schools to call calamity days, too, raising another issue for the school board association.

''What you are doing is paying the investors for five days worth of school they are not delivering,'' said Asbury. ''So are they paying the teachers or what are they doing with the money? Is it pure profit?''

A survey of area school districts found them all over the three-day limit on calamity days and most have not made one up, yet. Districts, when setting up their calendars, declare when calamity days will be made up and most pick June extensions.

That means they are hoping for quick action in Columbus.

''They need to do it fairly soon,'' Asbury said, ''because some of the districts have passed some of the days they might have used like Presidents Day.''


Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or davescott@thebeaconjournal.com
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