Schools run short of calamity days

After missing few, if any, days due to inclement weather last year, area students may have to get ready to alter their 2012-13 calendars.

The most recent round of snow cost local districts two or three days of instruction. Coupled with days off earlier this winter, most schools are at or within one day of the five “calamity” days the state excuses in a school year. After that, districts must make up the time, which in most cases would result in a shortened spring break or slightly longer school year.

Fort Frye, Frontier, Warren and Wolf Creek Local schools have each missed five days this winter. Belpre, Marietta City and the Washington County Career Center have missed four.

For most districts, makeup days would fall during spring break or at the end of the school year. But for Belpre, up to three days beyond the initial five would be made up through assignments posted online.

This approach allows the district to lessen the chances for altering scheduled breaks, while taking advantage of technology that is already becoming more and more common in the curriculum.

“When you start cutting into those breaks that are regularly scheduled … that affects people’s lives on a greater scale than just educationally,” Superintendent Tony Dunn said. “These three days could get us through so that we didn’t have to reschedule the rest of the year.”

State law allots two weeks for students to turn in online makeup assignments, in case some students are unable to access them via the Internet from home.

Belpre is the only district in Washington County that’s participating in the program, allowed by legislation passed in 2011. The others would make up their additional days first by having classes on days they were originally scheduled to be off.

“We took an entire five days off for spring break, but we also built two makeup days in there,” Frontier Superintendent Bruce Kidder said.

There’s also an additional three makeup days on the calendar – June 3, 4 and 5, after the original May 30 last day for students.

One school in the district will have classes on two of those makeup days. Lawrence Elementary School was closed twice this year, once for a power outage and once due to flooding. Kidder said his inclination would be to have students go at the end of the year, but he will talk with school and transportation staff before making a decision.

“Even when you make them up over spring break, that does cause some disruption for families,” he said.

Students at Salem-Liberty Elementary School have had one more day off than other students in the Fort Frye district, also due to a power outage. Superintendent Tom Gibbs said a makeup date has not been chosen yet.

Some career center students receive a day off even if that school is open, because their home districts are closed. They are advised to stay home in that case, and staff work with them to make up the material they missed, Superintendent Dennis Blatt said.

“It’s all about student safety,” he said.

If makeup days are needed, Blatt said the career center will likely take them from its March 25 to 29 spring break first.

In the 2011-12 school year, districts did not have to shorten spring breaks or extend the school year, thanks to a mild winter that resulted in fewer closings than usual. Schools in the Belpre and Marietta City districts didn’t lose a single day to inclement weather.

Even with more days taken this year, districts are still well below previous years in terms of the number of calamity days used.

Gibbs said Fort Frye had 15 calamity days in 2010-11 and 17 the year before that. Warren Local Schools, where he also serves as superintendent, lost 11 days in 2010-11 and 17 in 2009-10.