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Calamity days

Most, if not all, area schools will be back in session today. Of course, that’s if weather permits. It’s been one of those winters, one of the coldest and snowiest in decades.
As a result, many schools have already used up the five “calamity” days the state permits. With February still ahead, most will likely to have to extend the school year well into June.
Or maybe not.
Once again, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has asked legislators to increase the cap on calamity days because of the severe weather. He says student safety must come first when the weather is bad, and that extending the school year could cause budget problems for some schools.
While Kasich will likely get what he asks for, and students will be happy about it, we don’t favor shortening the school year beyond five days.
We agree, safety must be the top priority. Each school district must be able to make the call whether it’s safe for buses and young drivers to travel to school.
We also can sympathize with schools facing financial problems.
But if the state is concerned about school budgets, it should find a way to provide one-time financial aid for makeup days.
Education should be more about quality than quantity, but shortening the school year would do more harm than good.
Studies have shown that U.S. students are falling behind those in other countries, and that many Ohio students are struggling just to meet basic educational requirements.
According to a report from the Ohio Board of Regents, 40 percent of high school graduates in 2012 needed remedial math or English classes when pursuing higher education.
Younger students need more, not less, instruction. A study released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found 63 percent of Ohio fourth-graders and 80 percent of lower-income students do not read at grade level.
School districts have options when it comes to making up for lost time. They can schedule makeup days on holidays, during the time normally given for spring breaks, or tack on days at the end of the school year. Administrators also can implement programs that allows days to be made up through online lessons that can be completed at home. Two school districts, Vanlue and McComb, may make use of such plans to minimize makeup days this year.
Times are changing and so, apparently, are our weather patterns. There is nothing to suggest next winter or the one after that will be any different than this one. Will the number of calamity days just continue to go up?
Districts may better serve students by reworking traditional school calendars, adjusting the start and end times of the school day, or even the months when classes are in session. Perhaps Ohio should set a minimum number of hours in a school year, instead of days.
In addition to calamity days, many school districts have used two-hour delays on numerous occasions this year. So why not start the school day at 10 or 11 a.m., at least during the winter, and go until 5 p.m.?
One way or the other, officials should find a way to keep students in school as many hours each year as possible. Reducing the school year simply because the weather is unpleasant sets a bad example for youth, who won’t be able to use weather as an excuse once they go to work.
In 2011, the Legislature, at Kasich’s urging, increased the number of calamity days from three to five.
Earlier this week, the governor requested that four more days be excused. That’s one day short of giving students a two-week vacation because of the weather.
Lawmakers should deny the request.

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