Ohio lawmakers push back school schedules decision

Dispute resolution must wait until March 11

Many TPS busses suffered maintenance issues from the cold.
Many TPS busses suffered maintenance issues from the cold.

COLUMBUS — An effort to give schools a lesson plan on what they can expect in terms of planning the rest of their school years because of days lost to blizzards and subzero temperatures fell apart Wednesday with no plan to resolve the dispute before March 11.

The Senate unanimously approved a bill that would have forgiven three additional days of instruction, on top of five already permitted, but only after schools have taken advantage of holidays, home assignments, and other back-up plans to make up four of the days they’ve called off.

A fourth day could then be written off for students, but not for teachers, who would spend a day in professional development that would count toward the state-mandated minimum school year.

The House, however, voted 57-39 to reject the changes, setting up a six-member, bipartisan conference committee to hammer out a compromise capable of passing both chambers. With that, the House and Senate went home for two weeks.

The version that passed the House last week would have forgiven two “calamity” days outright for all involved and required teachers, not students, to return to the classroom for in-service days for two more to count toward the minimum school year.

“There still remain some substantial differences between the two versions,” said Rep. Gerald Stebleton (R., Lancaster), chairman of the House Education Committee. “There’s a lot of confusion about how this [Senate version] works.”

State law allows school districts to write off up to five “calamity” days lost to weather and other emergencies. The vast majority of Ohio school districts are already beyond that.

“The Senate version of the bill provided for more instructional time for school districts. We thought that was important,” Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) said. “But we also balanced that with some additional flexibility for schools to manage their calendars in this unusual winter.

“The second thing we thought was important in the Senate was to try to resolve the calamity day issue this week because the sooner that we resolve the issue at the Statehouse, the sooner the school districts can implement their calendars at the local level.”

The conference committee would consist of three members each from chamber with majority Republicans, who control both chambers, holding four of the six seats.

House Bill 416, sponsored by Reps. Tony Burkley (R., Payne) and Brian Hill (R., Zanesville), includes Mr. Gardner’s proposal to not require seniors to continue to attend classes after their graduation ceremonies are held.

The Ottawa Hills School District, which is small and does not bus students, has closed just four days this winter, so such legislation is unlikely to mean much to it. Staying open when other schools close is part of the district’s culture, Superintendent Kevin Miller said.

“We value that,” he said. “We appreciate that.”

While the Perrysburg district has missed more days, it also may not benefit much from any final legislation. That’s because the district has missed 10 days, right on the proposed cut-off line.

That’s fine with Superintendent Tom Hosler, who said the district has pretty much accepted that students and staff will have to make up five days at the end of the year.

“It’s difficult to come up with one plan that is going to fit everybody very well,” he said.

Some districts have already announced plans to mitigate their excessive calamity days. Toledo Public Schools has turned four half days into full days to make up some time, and it hopes to get permission from the state to add half-hour increments to the end of some days, Chief Academic Officer Jim Gault said.

The district also plans to give students “blizzard bags” during spring break, with students having two weeks to complete the equivalent of three days worth of school work. 

With 12 days missed, Mr. Gault said those actions should cover TPS, as long as the state allows those converted half days to count as “contingency days.”

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

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.