Licking Heights and Southwest Licking superintendents say they're aware of the reduction in calamity days this year but that safety is their top priority in deciding whether to cancel school.

Licking Heights and Southwest Licking superintendents say they're aware of the reduction in calamity days this year but that safety is their top priority in deciding whether to cancel school.

Even before the official start of winter Dec. 21, Licking Heights already had used its three calamity days allotted by the state - two in the past week because of a water-main break and snowy roads. Southwest Licking has canceled school twice because of weather. Etna Elementary School and the Kindergarten Center have used three calamity days.

"Our No. 1 goal is to make sure that kids arrive to school and make it back home in a safe fashion," Licking Heights Superintendent Thomas Tucker said.

Southwest Licking Superintendent Forest Yocum echoed Tucker.

"We always base our decision on the safety of our children, no matter what decision we make," he said.

Yocum said his staff is on the road as early as 4 a.m. to check road conditions throughout the winter.

"Some days are long days. I woke up at 3:48 a.m. today," he said Dec. 16. "Some people think we just sit there and look out our window, but we actually travel the roads. We always have."

If SWL transportation director Todd Liston reports a problem, Yocum takes to the roads himself, he said. They split up, with Yocum taking half of the district and Liston taking the other.

"When I have a four-wheel-drive pickup truck and I'm sliding through intersections, it's not safe for the kids to be out on the road," Yocum said.

In addition, it's rare for a district to close alone, he said. He stays in touch with other nearby districts but doesn't rely on them for the decision.

"We consult with other superintendents in the area, and they consult with us, and we try to come up with what we think is best for the safety of our children. That doesn't mean we always follow each other," he said.

Gov. Ted Stric-kland reduced the number of Ohio districts' calamity days from five to three beginning this school year. Gov.-elect John Kasich has proposed reversing that switch, but details have not been settled about how and when a move would be made to restore calamity days, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols has said.

Yocum refrained from expressing a personal opinion on the matter and said SWL would follow the Ohio Department of Education's direction on making up calamity days.

"My concern is that we take so many days away from our kids in the classroom for testing," Yocum said. "I would prefer we add days to the end of the school year so we can get back to doing to what we used to do. So many of those days are taken away from us."

Tucker, in contrast, said he would welcome the addition of two more calamity days.

"We would be very appreciative if we had two more or if next year we went back to five," he said.

If the policy is not changed and Licking Heights calls any more calamity days, the first two days of spring break, March 28-29, are scheduled as makeup days. Makeup days for additional calamity days would be added to the end of the school year.

Board members suggested that Tucker look into petitioning the Ohio Department of Education to waive the calamity day used for the water-main break that shut down the district Friday, Dec. 11.

SWL's policy is similar. The first makeup day would be the last day of spring break, April 1. Other days would be added to the tail end of spring break as needed.