A change in Ohio law replaces the minimum number of days in a school year to a minimum number of hours, depending on the grade level, starting with the 2014-15 school year.
The new law also eliminates the five calamity days schools could use in case of bad weather such as snow emergencies, facility failures or other events preventing a normal school day.
Lawmakers in favor of the change said it gives schools more flexibility to make up lost days by adding hours to already scheduled school days instead of adding days to the year.
But Miami Valley school officials say it’s too early to know whether the change will be beneficial or burdensome.
Springfield City Schools Superintendent David Estrop said drafting the school calendar requires input from parents and community members and usually is finalized in January or February before the school year. Estrop said he and other officials need to study the new law further before deciding how to deal with calamity days.
“We’ll be taking a look at what the options are. It’s just not easy to say we’ll add an hour to the day because we have a calamity day,” Estrop said.
Estrop said adding extra hours to the day affects transportation, school activities and after-school daycare services.
“Frankly, I support providing as much instruction as we possibly can for our students,” Estrop said. “Certainly, you balance safety and security issues against the need for many in our community to be at school learning and not be at home, in some, cases alone.”
The minimum hours are:
* 455 for half-day kindergarten;
* 910 hours for all-day kindergarten and first through sixth grades;
* 1,001 hours for seventh through 12th grades.
The new hours do not automatically apply — any changes to the calendar have to be approved by the school board following a public hearing. The minimum hours include the equivalent of two days for parent-teacher conferences, instead of the four days, and the equivalent of two days for teacher training days.
Fifteen states and Washington, D.C., still count minimum days instead of hours, according to the Education Commission on the States.
Some local schools such as Middletown and Hamilton currently exceed the state’s minimum requirement of hours.
In Middletown, students have six-hour days, which equates to 1,092 hours per year. Officials said the new minimum hours create flexibility and creativity for making up lost time, said Gracie Gregory, spokeswoman for Middletown City Schools.
“Our six-hour days puts us over the number of hours in the law,” Gregory said.
Officials within Butler County’s largest school district, Lakota Local Schools, believe the change in law will prove to be a good thing due to added flexibility, said Randy Oppenheimer, executive director of community relations.
“If you miss a lot of school because of bad weather, you could combine some full make-up days with some extended days,” Oppenheimer said. “Either option has lots of logistics issues, both for the schools and for families, but it gives you more flexibility than you had before.”
Beavercreek City Schools Board of Education President Al Nels said the switch sounds like a good idea but may have unknown, unintended consequences.Currently, school districts that opt for a late start or early dismissal could still count the day as one of the required 182. Under the new plan, a late start could have to be made up another day to meet the minimum requirement.
Nels said the board plans to review the change and myriad other education law changes made in the state’s two-year budget bill this week, but don’t have to make a decision about the hours change until next year.
“We do a lot of planning before we approve the calendar,” Nels said. “It’s not like it all occurs in one day.”