By Sue Botos
In northern Ohio, every heavy snowfall brings with it the hope of a “snow day” for schoolchildren and the prospect of frantic schedule shuffling for parents. But because of a new state law, part of Gov. John Kasich’s sweeping education reform bill, districts will calculate school time by the hour instead of by the day beginning next year.
Most area schools have already used two of five currently allowed “calamity days” due to last week’s frigid blast. Some districts, such as North Olmsted, where several school buses did not start on Wednesday, had the holiday break extended by five days. These are bonus days off for students and teachers, but once the magic number of five is reached, days must be made up in June. Districts going over that limit can appeal to the state for a waiver.
Under the new legislation, schools will no longer need to be open 182 days to make up a full year. Instead, students in full-day kindergarten through sixth grade should clock in 910 hours (455 for half-day kindergarten) and 1,001 hours for grades eight through 12. Meals and extracurricular activities do not count toward these totals.
State officials supporting the hourly tracking of the school day say it will give districts more flexibility. But Rocky River school board members feel that a lot of revamping would have to be done before partial days could become a reality for the district.
At the board’s first committee session of 2014, members discussed the fact that there is no mechanism in place for “delayed starts” to the school day. “I don’t like it,” commented Superintendent Michael Shoaf, looking back on past experience in other districts. “It’s frustrating for parents and transportation,” he said, adding that the busing of private school students must also be considered.
Shoaf said that the board would look into the possibility of partial days, but the law does give districts options. They can make up any school time missed by adding hours on to regular days until the required total is reached, or stick with the old way of making up the time at the end of the year. Supporters of the measure say that it costs more to have extra school days than to add hours on when classes are already in session.
Assistant Superintendent Liz Anderson pointed out that the hourly issue would have to be addressed on an individual basis at each of the district’s buildings due to varying schedules.
Board Vice President Scott Swartz also brought up the issue of student activities, and the need for a policy stating when they should be called off. Shoaf said that this would depend on the reason for school cancellation. For example, a power failure at one building may stop classes, but a practice or game could be moved to another building.
Shoaf did question the logic of any coach who would contact players for “pickup” games and practices if schools were closed for natural disasters, such as cold, snow or storms. “If it’s dangerous for kids to go to school, it’s dangerous for them to go to a practice. What if someone gets in a wreck on the way?” he asked. “It’s a hard issue.”