By BONNIE L. HAZEN
With Jack Frost fixing his gaze on the Mahoning Valley once again, area schools already beyond their allotted calamity days are in danger of accruing more.
While some schools only have one day to make up, others have up to five. And since not all districts have approved "blizzard bags" as an alternative make-up plan, some students may see their summer shortened while they make them up.
A state plan for blizzard bags allow students to make up missed days by completing homework assignments instead of attending extra days, and may require students to access the work online. Since not all students have Internet access or computers, some districts have chosen to abstain from the option.
As of Friday, Howland had used eight calamity days, while Niles and Warren had each used 10. And winter isn't over yet.
Locally, the National Weather Service predicted a chance for 1 to 2 inches of new snow on the ground this morning, and up to 3 more inches during the day. By Monday, the high is predicted to be 17 degrees, with wind chills as low as -14 degrees.
Bristol Schools Superintendent Christopher Dray said he's not sure blizzard bags are a good alternative for his district, which currently sits at eight calamity days used. Like many districts, Bristol is waiting to see if the government will extend the number of calamity days.
The Senate and House haven't yet reached an agreement on Gov. John R. Kasich's call for the increase in calamity days beyond the five they are allotted. The bill has been sent to a joint conference committee, which may take a couple more weeks, which leaves Ohio school districts still unable to make concrete plans for extending - or not extending - the school year.
The Ohio Senate passed its own version on Wednesday, one week after the House passed its bill. The Senate bill also would allowed schools four extra days, but added the provision that districts must first use four of their five contingency days built into the school calendar. Both bills would allow schools to add 30 minutes to each school day in an effort to make up days, although this is a somewhat drawn-out measure: It takes 11 days to make up one full school day.
"Legislation in the past has helped school districts out when you have extreme winter weather as we have, and I guess that's kind of what we're all hoping for," said Howland Superintendent John Sheets.
"We're just kind of waiting to see what happens," said Newton Falls Superintendent Paul Woodard, whose district had used seven calamity days as of Friday.
Some schools, such as Howland and Brookfield, have embraced the alternative make-up plan as a way of making up extra calamity days.
"It advocates use of technology, accessing assignments online in that respect. In some ways, I view it as a way to promote the use of technology. We've had good response and we were prepared for the blizzard bags, and they worked out well for us," Sheets said.
"It seems to be working for our students and our parents," said Brookfield Superintendent Tim Saxton.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.