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Tuesday, July 22, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 1/28/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

Ohio looks at cutting length of school year

Local districts close as winter eats away at required days

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Brittany Cullard and her son, Michael Ferrel, 2, battle a wind-blown snow squall as they walk on North Huron Street in downtown Toledo on their way to the bus stop Monday. Brittany Cullard and her son, Michael Ferrel, 2, battle a wind-blown snow squall as they walk on North Huron Street in downtown Toledo on their way to the bus stop Monday.
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School districts canceled classes throughout northwest Ohio again today in anticipation of a renewed blast of bitter cold, while state officials announced proposals for legal relief from the scheduling chaos previous snow and cold have caused.

By morning, forecasters said, temperatures in the Toledo area should be well into the teens below zero, with wind chills as low as -30. It would be the second such plunge this month, with the official Toledo temperature having hit record lows of -15 and -14 on Jan. 6 and 7, respectively, following a 13-inch snowfall that virtually shut the region down those two days and closed many schools for the entire first week after Christmas Break.

Many districts across northwest Ohio and elsewhere in the state canceled classes on other days since then and again on Monday, when fresh snow and blustery winds made rural driving difficult at best. Such frequent closings could force districts to extend classes much later into June than normal for the area.

To address that problem, Gov. John Kasich proposed Monday a one-time, four-day reduction in the minimum length of Ohio’s required school year. Shortly thereafter, state Reps. Tony Burkley (R., Payne) and Brian Hill (R., Zanesville) announced they’ll introduce similarly minded legislation.

“Many schools have already hit the maximum number of snow days, or will soon, and if they exceed it and have to extend the school year, it can wreak havoc with schools’ budgets and schedules,” Governor Kasich said in a statement. “Giving schools a few extra snow days this year will be helpful and let everyone stay focused on the top priority when weather hits: keeping kids safe.”

The legislators and Governor Kasich said Ohio law allots schools five “calamity days” to close for weather or other emergencies, though that’s not technically true.

Most districts’ calendars comply with a state minimum of 182 scheduled school days, with two days set aside for parent-teacher conferences.

That leaves those districts a five-day buffer — the so-called calamity days — they can use in emergencies to meet the minimum 175 days of instruction required by law to qualify for full state funding. Districts that schedule more than 182 school days have that many more days they may cancel if necessary.

Districts also must schedule five possible contingency days against unexpected closings but need not hold classes those days if they don’t exhaust their calamity days. Once contingency days are also used up, they must extend school hours, add days in the summer, or conduct three days of online instruction.

About a third of Ohio districts have already closed for five days or more this winter, putting them at or near their limits and likely to need to use contingency days. Simply adding four more calamity days would have required many districts to use contingency days, so the proposed legislation instead reduces the minimum number of instruction days from 175 to 171 as long as the days off were for weather emergencies or other allowed reasons.

Harold Knapp of Toledo makes his way through the snow downtown, where many residents must walk to bus stops. Harold Knapp of Toledo makes his way through the snow downtown, where many residents must walk to bus stops.
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Among the few districts not yet at risk of scheduling additional school days because of weather cancellations is Ottawa Hills, which before today only had closed schools on the two most extreme days, Jan. 6 and 7, when Lucas County declared a Level 3 snow emergency that effectively closed all roads in the county to civilian traffic.

Superintendent Kevin Miller said his district’s small size means his snow-day considerations differ from neighboring districts. Ottawa Hills doesn’t provide buses for daily transportation. The farthest any students walk is 2 miles, the superintendent said, and most live within a few blocks of their school.

“I think it’s a different discussion when you have 60 to 80 kids on a bus that could get caught on a back road,” Mr. Miller said.

The Ottawa Hills superintendent still checks road conditions on wintry mornings, reviews weather conditions and forecasts, and confers with school board members and neighboring schools’ leaders to decide whether walking and driving conditions are too dangerous.

Community feedback usually favors keeping Ottawa Hills’ schools open, Mr. Miller said, but it’s never unanimous.

“I’ve been making weather calls for 11 years as a superintendent,” he said, “and I’ve yet to make a call that 100 percent of the people agree with.”

The 1.1 inches of snow that fell early Monday at Toledo Express Airport brought Toledo’s season total to 51.2 inches. No additional snow was forecast today or Wednesday, but temperatures were expected to rise only to near zero today before falling well below that mark yet again for Wednesday morning.

“It’ll be mostly to partly sunny,” said Jay Berschback, chief meteorologist for WTVG-TV, Channel 13. “We’re not expecting any snow, but blowing and drifting snow will reduce visibilities at times.”

The National Weather Service issued a wind-chill warning until noon Wednesday for the entire region.

The combination of cold and wind presents a significant risk of hypothermia or frostbite to exposed skin, the agency said.

Besides elementary and secondary schools across the region, Owens Community College canceled classes today, and the University of Toledo canceled classes in all colleges except Pharmacy and Medicine and Life Sciences. The university itself will be open and require staff to go to work, subject to reconsideration if Lucas County declares another Level 3 emergency. The UT Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio, and its outpatient clinics will be open, the university said.

Toledo Municipal Court, the Lucas County Courthouse, and the county’s juvenile, domestic relations, and probate courts also announced plans Monday to be closed today because of forecast frigid weather.

Common Pleas Court Administrator Don Colby said many members of the public take buses downtown and must walk to the courthouse.

“We didn’t want to put people in harm’s way,” Mr. Colby said. All hearings set for today will be rescheduled.

Tim Dzenis clears the snow outside his business, Tim & Ed's Bar & Grill, in his shorts, although the temperature is  about 10. Mr. Dzenis says he doesn't mind if it's 100 in the summer, and wonders whether he doesn't store all that heat to help him get through the winter. Tim Dzenis clears the snow outside his business, Tim & Ed's Bar & Grill, in his shorts, although the temperature is about 10. Mr. Dzenis says he doesn't mind if it's 100 in the summer, and wonders whether he doesn't store all that heat to help him get through the winter.
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St. Paul’s Community Center, meanwhile, reactivated 24-hour “winter crisis” operations at its homeless shelter, although that could force St. Paul’s to close its regular winter crisis program two weeks early, if not sooner.

“As long as the weather remains this frigid, we will keep our doors open all day and night,” Marcia Langenderfer, the center’s executive director, said Monday.

Ms. Langenderfer, who noted that an average of 40-50 people have been staying at the shelter per day since the winter crisis program started Jan. 1. “It’s relentless. Our numbers are definitely up.”

The shelter, which had offered around-the-clock shelter during the previous deep cold snap three weeks ago resumed opening its doors around the clock for homeless residents during the weekend and will continue with those hours of operation through at least today, Ms. Langenderfer said.

The normal winter program provides shelter during evening and nighttime hours only, and the cost of 24-hour operations could shorten that program’s scheduled conclusion at the end of February.

About 600 people have participated in that program this year.

“We’ll take another look next week,” Ms. Langenderfer said. “We know we’ve used a lot more money then we planned on. It’s a big concern.”

The American Red Cross of Northwest Ohio said it would evaluate the need to open temporary shelter sites today in Toledo, but decided not to do so Monday.

The Red Cross and Area Office on Aging set up three such locations across Toledo earlier this month but Amanda Aldrich, a Red Cross spokesman, said just a “handful of people” used them.

Staff writers Federico Martinez and David Patch contributed to this report.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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