Ohio calamity-day bill hits snag; debate continues

ANN SANNER Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- State lawmakers disagreed Wednesday over how many additional calamity days to give Ohio schools off this year because of the winter's hazardous weather, and how districts can make up the ones they have already taken.

The impasse came after the Senate passed its own plan Wednesday, different from a version passed earlier by the House.

Snow, ice and bone-chilling temperatures have led many districts across Ohio to exhaust the school year's five allowable calamity days, in which schools can close without making up the lost instructional time.

Many districts have canceled classes for nine or more days this year. Some Guernsey County schools in eastern Ohio have topped 17 such days.

Gov. John Kasich has been among those advocating adding extra snow days on a one-time basis. He has said if schools exceed their allowable days and have to extend the year, it can "wreak havoc" with schedules and school budgets.

The House passed a bill last week to let schools receive up to four additional days off, with teachers having to report on two of those.

Senators put their own mark on the measure Wednesday.

The Senate unanimously passed a plan to let schools take up to four additional days off this year, with teachers reporting for one day for training. But first, districts would have to use four contingency days before they could get the extra days off.

Each school district adopts an annual contingency plan that includes adding at least five whole days to the school year if needed to make up any days missed beyond the excused calamity days. The bill would let districts revise their plans, which were submitted last September.

Senators changed the bill during an education committee hearing Wednesday morning. They made additional changes on the Senate floor in the afternoon to try to win House support.

"We all know that there are some issues that everyone has an opinion on and everyone wants to talk about: Calamity days is one of those," said state Sen. Peggy Lehner, who chairs the education panel.

She said she believed the committee had struck "a good balance between the need to keep our students safe and our need to keep our children well-educated."

"But we do have some who would like to make it a little different," she said. She then offered an amendment to "keep perhaps some more people happy."

But the House rejected the Senate amendments, sending the bill to a joint conference committee to work on an agreement.

Lawmakers in each chamber acknowledged that schools were waiting for an answer on the issue.

"With no clear end to winter in sight, it is important that we as legislators take the necessary steps to protect our children from the current frigid environment," state Rep. Tony Burkley, the bill's co-sponsor, told fellow legislators earlier Wednesday.

John Scheu, superintendent of the Sidney City School District, said blisteringly cold temperatures and busted water pipes in one building forced his schools to go beyond the five allotted calamity days this year. The district, which is north of Dayton, used Presidents Day to make up one of the days.

Scheu urged senators to grant districts more days.

"It has been said that allowing additional days will adversely affect learning for our students," he told the Senate Education Committee. "I would argue that tacking on an additional four days at the end of the school year is not going to increase learning for our students."

The Senate-passed bill also would allow districts to make up the time off by lengthening school days by 30-minute increments. High school seniors would be excused from makeup days that occur after their scheduled graduation ceremonies.