By Linda Dillman
Snow days will no longer cause students to miss out on learning opportunities following the Canal Winchester Board of Education’s adoption of a new “blizzard bag” policy.
“Ohio is experiencing one of its worst winters in the last 20 years and the season is not even half over,” said Superintendent Jim Sotlar. “Many school districts have used or gone over the five calamity days allowed by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) due to severe weather.”
Canal Winchester is at the five-day threshold and, with more bad weather, students could face an extended school year without the new policy or changes proposed by Gov. John Kasich to tack on four more calamity days to the 2013-14 school year.
The ODE first provided the opportunity for school districts to make up days through an online alternative plan commonly referred to as “blizzard bags” in 2011. Schools participating in the program had to file an annual plan by Aug. 1 to be eligible for the upcoming school year. With the onslaught of snowstorms rolling through Ohio, the ODE re-opened the program to districts for 2013-2014, provided they signed up prior to Feb. 3.
According to Sotlar, the program gives enrolled school districts an extra three days in addition to the five calamity days, meaning they will not have to make up those days. Lessons will be posted online and students will have up to two weeks to complete the assignments. Students who do not have access to a computer will be given paper copies of the assignments when they return back to school.
“Although nothing can replace the face-to-face interaction between teacher and students, this option allows for the continuous flow of the educational process,” said Sotlar.
By noon after an announced school closure—in excess of the number of calamity days permitted by the state—lessons are posted for each course that was scheduled to meet on the day of the school closing. Teachers will update or replace online lessons as necessary throughout the school year based on the instructional progress of students.
If a student does not complete the lesson within the two-week time period, whether online or on paper, they will receive an incomplete or failing grade unless a sufficient reason is provided to their teacher. The district will also provide access to district computers before, during or after the school day in order for students to complete their assignments.
“This is just for the remainder of the school year,” Sotlar said.
The law mandates that school is in session for 182 days. Starting with the 2014-15 school year, a new law changes the requirement from days to instructional hours, thereby eliminating calamity days providing a district meets the required minimum number of hours.
Traditional school districts, joint vocational school districts and chartered non-public schools will be required to comply with minimum hours of instruction depending on the grade level, including 455 hours for students in half-day kindergarten, 910 hours for students in full-day kindergarten through grade 6 and 1,001 hours for students in grades 7-12.
Currently, districts like Canal Winchester offer approximately 1,200 hours of instruction per year, which is well beyond the new requirements.