Schools days to be measured by instructional hours

Heather Meade Staff Writer

January 15, 2014

DARKE COUNTY - At the start of the 2014-2015 school year, schools across the state of Ohio will begin measuring their school year in hours, rather than days.

According to information from the Ohio Department of Education, Ohio Congress passed legislation which will take effect July 1, stating that traditional public schools, joint vocational schools, and chartered nonpublic schools must provide a set number of hours of instructional time to students.

Instructional time for schools means time spent in regularly scheduled classes, at supervised activities such as assemblies, approved education options like virtual academies and post-secondary education, and co-curricular activities during a scheduled school day, such as field trip; a 15-minute recess in the morning and afternoon is also included for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Time spent at breakfast, lunch and extracurricular activities will not count towards instructional time.

Currently, schools are required to be in session 180 days per academic year; beginning this fall, they will be required to be in session a specific number of hours, depending on the grade level. Half-day kindergarten students will receive a minimum of 455 hours; full-day kindergarten students, and students in grades one through six, will be required to have 910 instructional hours in a school year; and students in grades seven through 12 will be required to have 1,001 instructional hours in an academic year.

If a district has 180 instructional days scheduled, at six hours per day, that amounts to approximately 1,080 hours of instructional time, that’s 79 hours above and beyond the required 1,001 hours for high school students; that’s approximately 13 extra days scheduled for high school students, or 28 extra days for children in full-day kindergarten through sixth grade.

“Right now, most districts, if they have a decent-length day, and 180 days scheduled, probably meet their minimum hours – if they stick with that same schedule, it will convert fine. A lot districts will be over their minimum - a lot are coming in about 1,125 as it is, and this gives them an extra week or so built in already. Calamity days will go away as long as districts meet minimum hours,” said John Charlton, associate director of media relations for the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).

The change, Charlton believes, came as a way to give districts more flexibility in determining how long their school year was, and how they will make up their calamity days.

“If districts want to change their calendar year to include fewer days, they can do that by holding a public meeting,” Charlton commented.

The changes in Ohio Revised Code also allow for up to three days to be made up through online lessons, or “blizzard bags,” for students who do not have web access at home. Some Darke County schools are already utilizing “e-days,” or online work for students to make up while they’re home from school for weather emergencies, disease epidemics, law enforcement emergencies, inoperable equipment essential to everyday functions of the school, or other unforeseeable events that make the school unfit for attendance.

To utilize e-days or blizzard bags, schools have to submit a plan to the Ohio Department of Education prior to the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1. Schools can also use up to two days for parent-teacher conferences and reporting periods; and up to two days for professional meetings. A student will be counted as absent for an e-day if they receive a failing grade or an incomplete on make-up work for that day, unless the work is made up at a later date.

Teachers must update and replace their online and blizzard bag lessons at the same time, ensuring consistency. E-day/blizzard bag lessons must be based on the current curriculum, used to lay a foundation as an introduction to future units, or to review past units.

“In the end, it will be up to the district or school and its teachers to insure that there are appropriate levels of validity, quality and integrity associated with these online lessons or the hard copy alternatives in the ‘blizzard bags,’” the ODE reported.