Jessica Brown reports:
Some local students may have their school year extended thanks to an early deluge of winter weather this year.
Schools in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky have already canceled classes several times this school year due to ill-timed snowfalls or sub-zero temperatures. The latest round of closures came Monday as arctic temperatures hampered bus transportation, iced over parking lots and posed a frostbite danger for kids waiting at bus stops or walking to school.
A repeat is expected on Tuesday. A few districts decided Monday afternoon to remain closed as forecasts predicted temperatures would continue to hover in negative territory.
The closures this school year have come earlier and more often than normal, superintendents say. Some districts are already planning for summer makeup days.
“This is the first year in all of my career that we’ve had two snow days prior to Christmas, and I’ve always said if we have school closed … before Christmas we will be going to school in the summer,” said Clermont Northeastern schools Superintendent Ralph Shell.
On Monday the district used its third of five allotted “calamity” days because of cold weather and icy roads, Shell said.
Ohio and Kentucky handle snow days differently. In Ohio, the state allows schools to cancel up to five days due to severe weather or other emergency situations without requiring makeup days. These are called “calamity” days and are often made up during spring break or in the summer.
In Kentucky, school districts decide how to make up canceled classes, which are calculated based on hours instead of days. Most tack the hours on into the summer.
Another deciding factor in the closure was the district’s diesel school buses.
“We do not have plug-ins for our buses to keep them warm, and according to (Environmental Protection Agency) rules we aren’t allowed to idle buses to keep them warm,” Shell said.
“Even if kids jump from mom and dad’s car into the bus they are going to be cold until the bus heats up.”
The district can shorten its school calendar to avoid additional days in the summer by conducting a public hearing – but that’s not something Shell wants to think about.
“That’s way down the pipeline,” Shell said. “In this particular situation we are operating on ‘let’s get through this one day at a time.’”
Several other Ohio school districts, including Little Miami, Milford and Loveland,said if they use up all their allotted snow days, they’ll extend the year further into the summer.
The Little Miami school district in Warren County has only one left as of Monday, whereas for the past three years it used few snow days or none. The Milford district was in the same boat Monday with only one snow day left.
“I think the only time we were close to this was when the hurricane came in and we had a lot of days off about five or six years ago,” said Milford Superintendent Bob Farrell.
Loveland used its third snow day Monday.
The region’s largest school district, Cincinnati Public Schools, will make up snow days this summer if needed. But that would be extremely rare for the district of 33,000 students. So far, it’s used only two snow days.
Monday was the fourth day Campbell County canceled school for weather, compared to three cancellations all of last year. It will start making up days May 22. The last day of school was initially scheduled to be May 21.
Same with the Fort Thomas. Snow makeup days will be tacked onto the end of the year. Monday was its second missed day. “That’s unusual, but this is a real winter,” said Superintendent Gene Kirchner. Last year the worst it had was a one-hour delay. The many students walking to school in Fort Thomas was the reason for canceling classes Monday, Kirchner said.
“When you’re talking about wind chills of 20 and 30 degrees below zero, that’s a safety concern,” Kirchner said.
Ohio changes the way it counts snow days
This is the last year Ohio will have calamity days. Under a new Ohio law, when schools start the 2014-2015 school year they will switch from instructional days to instructional hours if their collective bargaining contracts with teachers were initiated after July 1, 2014.
Only a handful of Southwest Ohio school systems may be able to exercise the new option because of the law’s July 1 launch date and the usual labor contract terms of two or three years. For those that do make the switch, they will be allowed to make up the lost time by extending school days, rather than adding entire days to the school year.
Kentucky is already on an hours-based system. According to the 2012 budget bill, the school term shall include, at a minimum, the equivalent of 177 six-hour instructional days (1,062 hours). If a school closes due to weather, the individual districts decide how best to make up that time. District calendars specify when makeup days will occur, often in the summer.
School officials throughout the region say this is has been a particularly bad year so far for closures.
“We are definitely ahead of the game in using snow days. Often we get through December without having used any,” said Mason school district spokeswoman Tracey Carson. “During 2011-12 and ‘12-13, we only used one day. This is definitely not a ‘normal’ year. Between the fast-falling snow we saw in December at the most inconvenient time (snows beginning around 6 a.m.) and this arctic blast that makes the salt useless, we are experiencing a tough winter.”
The 14,000-student Kenton County district has already used four snow days. Superintendent Terri Cox-Cruey said they’ve taken off more days so far this year than in the past two years combined.
“Two years ago we had zero (snow days). Last year we used three,” said Cox-Cruey.
“It’s unprecedented, meaning that we have not used this many days so early as long as I can remember, which is since 2000,” said Ed Theroux, director of student services for Princeton City Schools. “The extreme conditions are hazardous for all children. We could not guarantee that all students would be safe coming in, due to those conditions.”
Most schools said Monday’s decision was easy – the frigid temperatures simply made it too dangerous for students to walk to school or wait on buses. For previous snow days, the timing or amount of snowfall were the deciding factors. Districts make the decisions with student safety in mind, they said.
“It’s too cold for our students to be walking to school,” said Mount Healthy Superintendent Lori Handler. “At these temperatures, frostbite can happen in minutes. We cannot have students walking a half hour up Hamilton Avenue to school.”
The district decided before 4 p.m. Monday to also cancel classes Tuesday.
Reporters Keith BeiryGolick, Chris Mayhew, Amy Scalf, Kelly McBride, Jennie Key and Michael Clark contributed
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