By MAX FILBY
McComb students may not have their school year extended too far into June, despite the district’s 13 “calamity” days.
The state recently approved a plan submitted by the school district to make up three missed days online instead of tacking them onto the end of the school year.
Only canceled days that occur after the state’s approval can be used toward the online makeup procedure.
Today is the deadline for teachers in the district to submit plans for online makeup days.
“We didn’t want to push teachers through the process too much,” said Superintendent Meri Skilliter. “We didn’t want any filler. We wanted good, solid lessons for students.”
The state allows school districts to cancel classes five days per school year. Those “calamity” days, usually caused by bad weather, don’t have to be made up. If more than five days are missed, schools have to adjust their calendars to make up the days.
Although the state required school districts to get approval before the school year to use online makeup days, some districts have been able to get late approval because of this winter’s severe weather.
Once individual lessons from teachers are made available online this week, Skilliter hopes the district can use them in the event of another cancellation.
“We’ll be communicating it a lot with parents because this is the first time McComb has ever done something like this,” Skilliter said.
The online program already has been implemented at Vanlue and Van Buren schools.
Vanlue received approval for the online program a year ago but didn’t have to use it until this year, said Nick Rider, technology director for the district.
“Every teacher just has three ‘go to’ lessons for those days,” Rider said. “We think it’s a lot better than going (to school) in late June.”
Rider said he has received almost all positive feedback about the use of online calamity days and has had few problems with students completing the lessons within the two weeks allotted to them.
Students without Internet access at home will receive a “blizzard bag” with printed copies of the lesson that must still be completed within two weeks, Rider said.
Vanlue uses the blizzard bags for about 10 students and McComb plans to use them as well.
Online calamity days may not be the only relief available to McComb and other area districts. On Monday, Gov. John Kasich asked state legislators to increase the cap on calamity days for this academic year. Kasich said student safety should come first when districts are facing severe weather, but he also said that elongated school years can hurt budgets.
“Many schools have already hit the maximum number of snow days, or will soon, and if they exceed it and have to extend the school year, it can wreak havoc with school budgets and schedules,” Kasich said.
Legislation was enacted in 2011 to raise the number of calamity days from three to five. State Sen. Edna Brown of Toledo recently proposed a bill that would add three calamity days to the 2013-14 school year.
Skilliter supports the idea to increase the limit on snow days, but said she hopes the state waits until the weather dies down before deciding how many more days should be granted.
“All I’ve heard so far is ‘a few,’ but that’s great, too,” Skilliter said. “Kudos to the Legislature.”
Rather than just adding snow days, Findlay Superintendent Dean Wittwer said he’d like to see the state give districts the power to extend the length of school days. The extensions would allow districts to get in more classroom time before statewide testing that takes place in the spring.
“It’s an interesting proposal, but my concern is that we may have fewer days to educate our kids,” Wittwer said about the plan to allow more calamity days.
Findlay has used the least number of snow days out of any school in the area, with Tuesday being its fifth. Findlay does not have the option of using online makeup days, Wittwer said.
Skilliter agrees with Wittwer that unless days are made up before June, students’ scores on state testing may take a hit. McComb made up one of its calamity days on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, will make up another on Presidents Day, and two others on days initially scheduled for teacher in-service days.
While Skilliter is new to her position at McComb, she said the number of calamity days this year has to be near a district record. With another month of winter weather ahead, that record could not only be broken, but trampled on.
“I’m a firm believer that it’s time Mother Nature stop showing off,” Skilliter said. “We’ve had enough.”
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