The Gahanna-Jefferson schools began winter break Dec. 20 with all three of its calamity days still available for use.

The Gahanna-Jefferson schools began winter break Dec. 20 with all three of its calamity days still available for use.

Many area districts already have used days because of inclement weather, even though winter didn't officially begin until Dec. 21.

In an effort to increase school time for students, Gov. Ted Strickland lowered the state's policy of allowing five calamity days to three. Gov.-elect John Kasich said he would re-examine that move.

Any severe weather or calamity days used by Gahanna in excess of the three allotted days will be made up in June, said Mary Otting, G-J communications specialist.

The Gahanna school board adopted the 2010-11 calendar with makeup days scheduled for June 9, 10, 13, 14 or 15.

Kristen Groves, G-J executive director of business and school improvement, said the safety of the students and staff is a top priority in the district.

"That is why making the decision to delay school start times or close schools on inclement-weather days is a decision that is taken very seriously," she said. "However, there is no exact science to making this decision."

Gahanna has a team of four district employees who drive the roads and assess the situation.

On inclement-weather days, the process begins at about 4:30 a.m., when employees monitor the radar and watch the morning news programs. The four-person team then begins to drive the roads, with each taking a different part of the district, Groves said.

"We meet at the district office and try to have a decision by 5:30 a.m. but certainly before 6 a.m.," she said, adding that the decision to delay or close school is based on a variety of criteria, including road conditions, temperature and wind chill.

"There is no magic number, but when the news channels start talking about temperatures (with wind-chill factors) approaching 20 below, it certainly gets our attention," Groves said.

Other factors include weather forecasts, sidewalk and parking-area conditions, bus readiness and building preparedness, such as the availability of heat, electricity and water.

Groves said about 4,840 students districtwide are eligible to ride the school bus to and from school although that number fluctuates on a daily basis.

During the 200809 academic year, G-J had an elementary school that used six calamity days.

"This was one day over the allotted five days that were granted at the time," she said. "The school was affected by a power outage in the fall of 2008 that was caused by a wind storm.

"The power outage closed the building for three days in addition to three days that were used districtwide for inclement weather."

After the decision is made to delay or close, district officials immediately call local television and radio stations to inform them, in addition to posting a voice-mail message on the InPhonet line via (614) 337-3737 and a notice on the homepage of the website at www.gahannaschools.org.

ThisWeek also posts closings and delays online at ThisWeekNEWS.com.