Winter's unpredictability should be accounted for in snow day debate

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It isn't an exaggeration to say that the only thing predictable about winter in Ohio is its unpredictability. While snow is a logical expectation at any time from November until March (and sometimes April), sudden storms and deep-freeze temperatures -- polar vortex is the latest addition to our meteorological vocabulary -- can add to the season's woes.

Winter's mercurial ways can pose a challenge for schools, too. Those that choose to close their doors in the interest of student safety must draw upon their reserve of five "calamity days" -- days set aside for emergencies -- to provide students with an excused absence without falling below the minimum number of days required to complete the school year.

Many school districts have exhausted their quota of calamity days, and unless the Ohio legislature agrees to provide schools with more of them, make-up days will have to be added to the calendar. That could mean longer school days, Saturday classes, elimination of spring break or the extension of the school year into mid-June.

House Bill 416 would add up to four additional calamity days, which could help many districts avoid having to extend classes. The House has passed the bill, which is now before the Ohio Senate.

The House vote had been delayed because Republicans were divided on whether to provide schools with extra days off.

Gov. John Kasich, the father of two school-age daughters, is among those in favor of extending the number of calamity days. Other proponents have expressed concern about the possibility of extending the school year later in June because keeping the doors open would mean additional costs to schools.

The House Education Committee signed off on HB 416, but its chairman, State Rep. Gerald Stebelton of Lancaster, had said some members question allowing students more time off with nothing in return, as Stebleton put it, "no education for children and a lot more money being spent for educating children that you're not educating."

Stebleton had raised the option of a compromise that would enable districts to make up lost days on Saturdays -- which is unlikely to be a popular option for youngsters and teachers -- or extending the school day to account for lost time. Another option that some districts already are utilizing would be to arrange for students to make up coursework online or by sending "blizzard bags" home with students so they can complete their lessons.

The point some members of Stebleton's committee raises is a valid one. Youngsters in Ohio are expected to be in school for a designated number of days in order to fulfill their academic requirements; extending the school days might be an option. But we question penalizing schools by imposing additional costs on them if the school year must be extended because of the weather. We don't quarrel with the idea of accountability, but the unpredictability of an Ohio winter also ought to be taken into account by legislators as they consider HB 416.

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