By Rob Treynor firstname.lastname@example.org
January 30, 2014
As area schools have begun to exceed the number of allotted calamity days allowed by the state, some districts are looking to supplement a few of those days with “blizzard bags.”
In Madison County, school officials have a variety of reactions.
The blizzard bag program allows students to download work-from-home lesson plans. This program allows districts three extra days in addition to the five standard calamity days currently allowed by the state. This means that districts utilizing the blizzard bag program are allowed eight calamity days before they must make any up later in the school year.
There are some bureaucratic hoops districts have to jump through before being allowed to implement the blizzard bag program.
Jonathan Alder School District is about to start jumping. Superintendent Gary Chapman has requested a special meeting with the school board to craft and push a resolution to implement the program.
“We’re finalizing going after blizzard bags right now,” Chapman said.
In the southern part of the county, Madison-Plains superintendent Bernie Hall expressed reservations about the program.
“We have our doubts that the blizzard bags are anything other than busy work. We’re not sure how well kids would learn with them,” Hall said.
William Mullett, superintendent for Jefferson Local School District, concurs.
“I don’t think they’d be real effective instructional days,” he said.
Mullett expressed concern that not every teacher would be on board at the same level with online plans.
“The thing you have to look at is consistency,” he said. “Conceptually, they’re a good idea. Maybe down the line when we do more online instruction, and maybe if we contractually make sure teachers have an online element to their class, then blizzard bags may work. But not much of that is in place right now.”
Hall said there is a lot of work for the staff.
“It’s not just as easy as saying, ‘let’s do blizzard bags.’ They take some time to prepare, and then it’s a continual update with the lesson plan to make sure the online information is timely,” Hall said. “We also have to find the time for the staff to build them and update them.”
He said the educational pay-off is probably not in line with that effort.
“And if you look at the blizzard bag activities other districts are using… If a kid only has to do one or two papers and that counts as a full day’s work, then that seems like a waste of time,” he said.
Even so, Hall said blizzard bags are not off the table.
“Still, we’re looking ahead and there’s the chance of more bad weather and we have to come up with some solutions,” Hall added, saying the administration would be looking long and hard at blizzard bags in the immediate future.
Mullett didn’t fully discount the idea either.
“We’ll probably talk about it further, but I don’t expect it this year.”
London City Schools superintendent Tom Ben also expressed concerns with how effective blizzard bags would work in London.
“I question the integrity of the work and how valid it is versus a day in school,” Ben said of the blizzard bag program.
Complicating planning for districts is uncertainty about exactly how many days they will actually need to make up. In Columbus, on Monday, Gov. John Kasich urged the Ohio General Assembly and Ohio Department of Education to work together on legislation providing a one-time increase in the number of days that schools can take off because of snow or bad weather.
“School closures can, of course, be an inconvenience but student safety always comes first,” said Gov. Kasich in press release. “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 schools budgets and schedules. Giving schools a few extra snow days this year will be helpful and let everyone stay focused on the top priority when weather hits, keeping kids safe.”
All school districts in the county have currently exceeded the number of calamity days currently allowed by the state of Ohio. Most districts will be making up those extra days in June.
District contingency plans are fluid, however, with the prospect of the additional calamity days Kasich has proposed.
“Right now we’re paying close attention with our state lawmakers with their proposal to forgive days,” Chapman said.
London officials are also watching closely, though they are not pushing hard for action.
“I certainly wouldn’t lobby hard for an increase in calamity days,” Ben said Wednesday morning. “I think students should have every opportunity for education.”
Though he added, “But if the legislature does do it, we’ll receive the days and deal with it.”
Hall would like to go even further. The Madison-Plains superintendent said, ideally, he would take calamity days away from the district.
“My theory is that we should make up all missed days,” said Hall. “I may be in the minority on that, though. Most kids go to school to get out of school. But I’m in the education business so I see things differently.”
With winter not even half over (Groundhog Day marks the season’s midpoint), the potential for more days off from school remains high.
“I think the school and the staff are just as frustrated about this weather as are the parents,” Ben said. “It’s difficult to re-establish student routines when you have these days off.”