Heather Meade Staff Writer
January 7, 2014
DARKE COUNTY - Not every Darke County school is over their allotted five calamity days, but they’re all close.
“You can’t control the weather, so you have this opportunity [calamity days] to close school, and if it gets beyond five days, there’s an opportunity to make them up,” said Mike Gray, superintendent of the Darke County Educational Service Center. “I just think it’s important that we have those, because I don’t think administrators make any decisions, as far as closing schools, without looking at the safety of the kids first and foremost, and that’s what those days are for.”
And the superintendents in Darke County say that their decision to close schools is based on what’s safest for the students, their parents who might be driving them, and the buses. With the bitterly cold temperatures and the icy conditions on county roads, county schools were closed Monday and Tuesday, putting the county’s districts close to their fifth calamity day.
“The bottom line is student safety, and if I feel our student drivers, walkers, parents and bus drivers can make it safely to school, then we are in session,” stated John Stephens, superintendent of Arcanum-Butler Local Schools. “A delay is often made to allow additional time for students to arrive at school, possibly clear/clean parking lots and sidewalks appropriately, allow road crews to plow/treat roadways and in some cases allow time for the sun to rise, giving everyone an opportunity to see possible road situations. If conditions aren’t going to improve or worsen then we go ahead and cancel.”
Ansonia, Arcanum, Franklin Monroe and Tri-Village have all used four days, with Mississinawa at five and Greenville at six; administrators from Bradford and Versailles were unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon. Many are hoping that if they must go over five calamity days, that it will occur before President’s Day, Feb. 17, so that they can utilize that as a make-up day, they said, otherwise, many Darke County students will be making up days at the end of the year due to testing restraints around what would normally be spring break.
“It’s [make-up days] weird this year with testing,” commented Jeff Patrick, superintendent of Franklin Monroe Local Schools. “The OAA (Ohio Achievement Assessments) scheduled to start the Monday after Easter, spring break is messed up and we have a really short break this year, so there aren’t a lot of options for us, other than to make up days at the end of this year.”
Students at Mississinawa Valley Local Schools have e-days, make-up days they can do at home on their computers, or if families don’t have Internet connections, at the library or at school when they return, said Jim Atchley, superintendent of both Mississinawa Valley and Ansonia Local Schools. Ansonia students, if they exceed their calamity days, will have to make up days using previously scheduled breaks identified as make-up days, he said.
Greenville City Schools are already over their allotted calamity days, but Superintendent Doug Fries said he wouldn’t have changed his call because the safety of the students and staff is his top priority. There are five days already set on the calendar to use as make-up days, and since Greenville has gone over their allotted calamity days, those will be utilized, he noted.
“Safety is first, it will always be first and it will always be our priority. If it’s a matter of safety or a make-up day, I’m going to go with safety,” said Fries. “If we canceled, we felt there was a reason to do it…It’s just a matter of how the roads are; if they’re icy, snow-covered and slippery, we think the drivers will have potential problems; a couple of the days early in the year were foggy – you couldn’t see far enough ahead of you. Then you have to make a decision.”
Fries said he and Jon McGreevey, director of administrative services, drive around the Greenville School District to determine the safety of the roads themselves, while Jim Atchley reports communication with not only Greenville City Schools, but Versailles Exempted Village Schools’ superintendent Aaron Moran, a veteran bus driver with Mississinawa Valley and the director of transportation with Ansonia Local.
“There’s a lot of communication early in the morning to try to determine what we’ll do,” said Atchley. “We try to make every decision based on student safety. When we have to make our determination, a lot of times, we have to make that call by 6 a.m. The weather and road conditions can change after we’ve made that decision, but through communication with other people in other districts, and within the districts (Ansonia/Mississinawa) themselves, that’s how we try to determine what the call will be.”
Most parents don’t seem to mind the idea of make-up days, because as one parent, Becci Miller of Greenville, described it, they’re “par for the course.” Many noted they’d rather their child go to school a few days longer than risk being out in “nasty winter conditions.”
“Because we do live where the weather is often unpredictable, making up calamity days is just par for the course. Accepting it as an inevitable part of life in this area instead of complaining about it will do us all good,” Miller noted. “Those days have to be made up. Not only because the state mandates a certain number of days/hours in the classroom, but many students need all the instructional time they can get.”
Other parents feel that their children shouldn’t be “punished” because of Mother Nature’s unpredictability.
“I think the kids shouldn’t have to make the days up,” said Adrienne Kieffer, another Greenville mom. “The weather is unpredictable…they shouldn’t count snow days at all.”