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Saturday, July 20th, 2013

State lets snow days slide

New law tells schools to track attendance by hours, not days

By Shelley Grieshop
A new state law eliminates school calamity days and reduces the minimum amount of attendance by calculating hours, not days.
The law, which goes into effect in the fall of 2014, will allow local students and staff to spend about 120 hours less in the classroom than they currently do each year. Districts will have the flexibility to shorten the school calendar and possibly use the excess hours as a replacement for the terminated calamity days.
Local school officials told the newspaper they aren't interested in reducing the school day or calendar year.
"We would never entertain the idea of reducing class time as that would not be in the best interest of our students," Fort Recovery schools superintendent Shelly Vaughn said.
Marion Local Schools Superintendent Mike Pohlman agreed.
"I don't have any plans of shortening our calendar once we meet the required hours," he said.
The new provision was signed into law several weeks ago by Gov. John Kasich as part of his two-year budget plan. It changes the current minimum 182-day school year - which includes a few teacher-only days - to a minimum of 1,001 hours for grades seven through 12, and 910 hours for lower grades.
All students at Marion Local presently attend 6.25 hours each day or about 1,125 hours per calendar year, Pohlman said. Under the new law, students and faculty will be in session about 20 more days each year than required.
Pohlman said the flexibility of the new legislation sounds good but he feels it could open up "a can of worms."
"Our negotiated agreement with the teachers' union has them working 184 days and it is based on the required school days, not hours," he said.
Teacher union contracts could face re-negotiation if school days or calendars are reduced, several school officials noted. Schools that opt to shorten their calendar year must, by law, advertise the intent and hold a public meeting at least 30 days before voting to adopt the plan.
John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said he's not certain if school districts will be allowed to use the excess in-session hours - above the amount required by the state - to cover missed days due to bad weather.
"I'm really not sure if that's what was intended," he said. "It's nice that we've got another year to work out the kinks."
Rod Moorman, superintendent of St. Henry schools, said the school board would have to decide how to make up inclement weather days if given the opportunity to use hours above the minimum. Like other area superintendents, he's not thrilled about missing any class time.
"All 179 days of education are important for the best education we can provide for our students," he said. 
Moorman said he believes all missed days should be made up.
Charlton commended the local administrators for putting their students' needs first.
"It's not important how much time is spent at school. What's important is student success," he said.
Ohio schools for many years were allowed five calamity days until Gov. Ted Strickland in 2010 reduced the number to three. In 2011, Ohio Gov. John Kasich - with prodding from his 10-year-old daughter - increased the number back to five.
Perhaps the young lady could give her daddy another message, Pohlman said.
"Maybe someone could bend her ear and get the state to just leave them alone," he said.
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