Although it wasn't a total calamity, Olentangy Local School District officials admit the introduction of an online assignments system meant to make up for calamity days could have gone more smoothly.
The assignments, which can be downloaded at the district's website, olentangy.k12.oh.us, were designed for use in case the district exceeded the state's limit of five calamity-day closures. Olentangy had never used the system before Jan. 29, when the district called a sixth calamity day due to low temperatures.
Some parents complained via the district's Facebook page that it was difficult to find and download their children's assignments. Others said the district should have done a better job of teaching parents about the system before introducing it.
"With 'new' come unforeseen challenges. Still, there were aspects that did not go smoothly or according to plan," district officials responded via Facebook last Thursday, Jan. 30. "Because we understand our community's disappointment, we also recognize the inconvenience it caused."
Olentangy schools spokesman Michael Straughter said the district's information-technology staff has been working since the last calamity day to make sure all the assignments are now in the right location on the site. He said some files from a training session regarding the program that should have been removed prior to the calamity day had been left on the site.
Straughter said the district also had taken constructive criticism from parents' comments, building new features into the site to make it easier to find assignments by teachers' names.
"We've definitely been listening and making changes from feedback as needed," he said.
Straughter said user error also contributed to the problem, with some parents lacking the proper software to download and open PDF files.
He said the district took responsibility and began working with parents to fix any issues immediately.
"Were there problems? Yeah," he said. "It didn't go the way we wanted."
By using the online assignments, which are due within two weeks of the calamity day, district officials said students and teachers will not have to cut summer break short for makeup days.
Straughter said despite the shaky rollout of the program, the district has not granted an extension of the 14-day window for turning the assignments in.
The district no longer will have to worry about overstepping its calamity-day limit starting next school year. Last summer, state legislators passed a bill to require public-school students to attend class for a set number of hours, not days.
The new requirement will be 1,001 hours per school year. Olentangy students currently attend class 1,114 hours per school year.
"According to the hours that are going to be required, we would only have to attend school 140 days, because we go more than the state requires," Superintendent Wade Lucas said. "Announcement: We are not scaling back to 140 days of school."
Lucas said the results of longer days for the district's students are reflected in its test scores and report-card grades.
As far as future calamity days and two-hour delays, Lucas said the district will continue to put student safety above anything else.
He said parents should remember the idea of "quality, not quantity" can apply to education. He said the district's educators will make up for lost time in the days, weeks and months following the calamity days.
Olentangy, along with the state's other school districts, may receive extra calamity days before winter's end.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has urged state lawmakers to approve additional days off for students as soon as possible.