Darbydale Elementary School students will have a shorter winter break than usual this year.

Darbydale Elementary School students will have a shorter winter break than usual this year.

The school was shut down eight days in November because of a boiler room fire that injured no one, but filled the building with smoke. It took several days to make sure the school was safe.

Ohio schools are allotted only three calamity days this school year, a reduction from the five allotted in the past. Darbydale students will have a minimum of five days to make up, assuming no further school days are canceled.

"They will be making up the first three days on Jan. 3, Jan. 4 and Feb. 21, 2011," South-Western City Schools spokeswoman Sandy Nekoloff said.

School districts are required to build five contingency days into their school calendars. This year, South-Western's make-up dates are Feb. 21, June 3, 6, 7, and 8.

Finland Middle School has used one calamity day, and the rest of South-Western's buildings have not used any, Nekoloff said.

The final decision on whether to close schools because of inclement weather is made by superintendent Bill Wise with the advice of the transportation staff.

"Around 4 a.m., various members of the transportation department begin driving the bus routes to provide information to the transportation supervisor on road conditions," Nekoloff said. "We are also in contact with local police departments and monitor weather radar."

In addition, the district staff makes an effort to clear school parking lots and sidewalks of snow.

"Our maintenance staff is sometimes out all night clearing the parking lots and sidewalks to prepare for the opening of school in the morning," Nekoloff said. "They are in constant contact with our property services supervisor regarding the condition of the parking lots, roads and sidewalks."

Other factors the district considers include whether conditions are worsening or improving; building conditions such as electricity, heat and water; temperature and wind chill; and weather predictions.

The decision to close school usually is made by 5:30 a.m. to allow ample time for parents, staffers and other districts to be notified, Nekoloff said.

"If we were to wait any longer than this, many of our buses would already be on the road and parents may have already left for work, which could leave children home unattended," she said.

South-Western does not use two-hour delays, in part because two-hour delays can become closings and the district is concerned about child care arrangements and the safety of students who might not hear about the change and head to their bus stops.