As the snow begins to fall and the sounds of winter fill the air, many children are looking forward to hearing three words during the week: “school is canceled.”
While students take advantage of Mother Nature, running to the local hill with their sleds or packing snow into snowballs, Columbus City School (CCS) district officials work to determine when to call off school.
In Ohio, school districts have five calamity days that are excused. A calamity day can be called due to hazardous weather conditions, disease epidemic, inoperability of school buses or necessary school operation equipment, damage to a school building or temporary utility failure necessary for school operation.
Schools are not required to make up two-hour delays or early dismissals due to weather, but must make up time missed because of bomb threats.
Each year, each district in the state must create a contingency plan in case the district uses more than five calamity days. The district should include plans on making up at least five full school days in case the five excused calamity days are used. School districts who use six through 10 calamity days must make up the entire day missed. For 11 or more calamity days used, the district must lengthen the school day in half-hour increments if its school day already exceeds the state minimum of five hours in the day.
So far this 2008-09 school year, most Columbus schools have used four calamity days, due to a windstorm and power outage in September. An additional 11 schools did not have school for one extra day due to the power outage, meaning they were forced to use all five of the allotted days.
According to CCS spokesperson Jeffrey Warner, when determining whether to cancel school, district officials go through a series of steps.
“We evaluate road and sidewalk conditions, as well as ensure that our schools have full utilities,” he said. “We also monitor weather reports to determine if conditions are expected to worsen or improve as the day continues.”
By law, only the superintendent can call off school, according to Warner. Parents, students and staff are advised of the school cancellation via the district’s Web site, radio and television.
Superintendent Gene Harris has announced that after discussions with each employee group representative, it has been determined that any additional calamity days taken beyond the five allotted days will be added to the district calendar at the end of the school year, and to the end of the last quarter of the year-round school calendars. The last day of class for most CCS students is currently June 4.
“We believe it is important to share this information as early as possible,” said Harris in a press release. “We want our students, parents, and staff to know what our contingency plans are in the event we are forced to cancel classes due to poor weather or other conditions, and for everyone to be prepared and plan accordingly to make up any days, if any and as needed.”