As another arctic blast sweeps through central Ohio, the number of calamity days available to local schools is dwindling.
Many schools, including those in Reynoldsburg and Upper Arlington, have used at least three of five allowed calamity days already this winter. Some, like Whitehall and Groveport, have used four.
Starting next fall, a change at the state level will wipe out the so-called calamity days but may give school districts a little more flexibility, according to John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.
Charlton said a change in state law last summer changed the requirement for 178 minimum days of instruction to 910 hours of instruction for students in kindergarten through sixth grade and to 1,001 hours for students in eighth grade through high school.
Children in half-day kindergarten are required to have 455 hours of instruction each school year.
"Districts can be creative by having longer school days to make up those hours instead of taking an extra day in the summer, if they choose," Charlton said. "As long as they hit those minimum hours, they won't have calamity days."
He said districts that have collective bargaining agreements with teachers in place will not have to make the change in the fall, since it would require changes to existing contracts, but they are expected to build the change into any new agreements.
As part of the instructional hours, districts may use up to two equivalent days as teacher professional development time and two more days for parent-teacher conferences. Time spent during lunch or breakfast hours or on extracurricular activities does not count toward the required hours for instruction.
The Reynoldsburg district has 178 instructional days built into this school year, as well as teacher in-service days for professional development. Five more days were selected as "contingency days" that may be used if the district falls short on calamity days or instructional hours, Superintendent Steve Dackin said.
Contingency days on this year's school calendar include Feb. 17, which is Presidents Day, and June 2, 3, 4 or 5. The last day of school is May 29.
"We would not be interested in a school calendar that results in less hours of instruction for kids," Dackin said. "We already have a collective bargaining agreement in place that identifies restrictions on days, but that contract comes up this summer."
He said the state converted the minimum instructional days to hours, which does give local boards a little more flexibility if they choose to make up hours instead of days.
Reynoldsburg's 2014-15 school calendar is already in place. School starts with two teacher in-service days Aug. 11 and 12; the first day for students is Aug. 13.
The last day of school is May 28 and contingency days are May 29 and June 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Karen Truett, spokeswoman for Upper Arlington City Schools, said that district's calendar also has extra in-service hours and days built in that could be used if the schools fall short of instructional hours.
"I can say that we are confidently over the state minimum," she said. "We think the hours change may also give some of our grades more flexibility to make up hours instead of days."
Upper Arlington school board members agreed on two make-up days, April 7 and June 5, at an organizational meeting early in January.
More about the change to instructional hours is available on the ODE website at education.ohio.gov.