School day to be measured in hours

Starting this fall, Ohio’s school year will be measured in hours instead of days.

The switch from days to hours was included in the massive biennial budget bill passed in June. According to published reports, the move is intended to provide flexibility to schools in terms of scheduling and calamity days, which have been eliminated under this system. However, most area school districts would have enough hours under their current schedules to avoid making up days in a typical year.

While it will require some changes and adaptations for school officials, it’s not expected to be noticeable to students and families for the most part.

“A student’s year will look relatively the same,” Warren Local Schools Superintendent Kyle Newton said. “The difference for Warren Local would probably be a lot of things that students wouldn’t see.”

Warren and other Washington County school districts have enough hours as their schedules are currently constructed to exceed the new minimums of 1,001 hours for grades seven through 12, 910 hours for all-day kindergarten through sixth grade and 455 hours for half-day kindergarten. In theory, boards of education could decide to go with shorter schedules, but administrators aren’t expressing a desire to move in that direction.

“If we could find ways to add more time, we probably would,” said Will Hampton, Marietta Middle School principal and acting superintendent of Marietta City Schools.

Wolf Creek Local Superintendent Bob Caldwell echoed that position.

“I believe there’s been more and more placed on the plate of public education” but without additional time provided, he said. “These hours to days really don’t change the old format.”

Students at Waterford Elementary and High schools currently have a six-hour-and-15-minute school day, and the law prohibits districts from setting a schedule consisting of less time than the previous year without a resolution of the board of education.

The current schedule works out to 1,137-and-a-half hours in a year, meaning if the board kept the same structure, it would have nearly 22 days’ cushion in its schedule for calamity days or time lost to two-hour delays. Belpre City Schools has the same number of hours and days.

Currently, districts are forgiven five calamity days. Two-hour delay days still count as full school days, but that will change next year.

The school closest to the new minimum is the Washington County Career Center. Secondary director Mike Elliott said the current calendar translates to just 1,012 hours. Not only does that give the center just 11 hours above the minimum, but students whose home school districts call off classes for the day don’t have to attend, even if the career center is in session.

With a larger cushion, those schools might be less concerned about having a snow day, Elliott said.

“With more accountability coming into play (in state standards), those individual school days become very important,” he said. “We’re going to be looking at increasing our times.”

Frontier Local Superintendent Bruce Kidder noted at this week’s board of education meeting that the district couldn’t shorten its own days significantly because that would affect its ability to bus juniors and seniors to the career center.

Frontier schools have 6.1-hour days. The same schedule as this year would give them nearly 18 excess days, which would help with more than district-wide calamity days.

“Sometimes Lawrence (Elementary) would have to make up a day or two more than the district,” Kidder said, pointing to high-water conditions that restricted access to that school but not others in the district. “They don’t have to do that now.”

Lunch does not count toward a school’s total hours, but up to 30 minutes of recess a day does in kindergarten through sixth grade, as do assemblies, field trips and other co-curricular activities during the scheduled school day.

The total number of hours can also include two parent-teacher conference days and two professional development days. Most districts have more professional development than that scheduled, so officials are still looking at how to adapt to that.

Newton said he thinks it will be a positive change, because districts will no longer have to get state approval for those days. Now the district can look at strategies like scheduling professional development during the Barlow Fair so that students can be released from school but teachers can still do that work.

“That’s a win for the community,” Newton said.

Another change for districts that likely won’t be noticed by students and families is contract language in collective bargaining agreements, which often refers to days instead of hours.