Schools try to catch up after unexpected three-day winter break

E-Day approach for some students means building is closed, but schoolwork is assigned.

Three straight unexpected days off school because of brutal winter weather forced districts to adjust educational plans — whether that’s via online lessons now, or catch-up efforts next week.

Several inches of snow fell by Friday morning, and every public school district in the five-county Dayton region was closed, along with the vast majority of Catholic, private, charter and career tech schools. On the heels of Wednesday and Thursday’s bitter cold and below-zero wind chills, most schools had an unexpected three-day break, followed by a weekend.

RELATED: Keep up with school closings every day via WHIO

The Eaton school district is among a few who called Friday an E-Day, or technology day, making it officially a school day, even though school buildings were closed. Eaton’s website noted that lessons were to be posted on each teacher’s webpage or Google Classroom site by 9 a.m., and Superintendent Jeff Parker said teachers were required to answer students’ e-mailed questions promptly. Students do not have take-home laptops or tablets, so any work done Friday is on home devices.

“It’s a way to utilize technology that a lot of kids and families do have available,” Parker said. “Then we don’t have to get into making up those days when families have plans already made (at the end of the year).”

Per state law, students have two weeks to complete the E-Day assignments, and students without home internet access can get paper copies when school reopens. Parker said schools are still learning how to best handle E-Days, adding that some teachers provide lessons more suited for an individual setting, such as an educational video for the youngest students.

LAST YEAR: Local schools make up more days than state requires

In Kettering schools, most students do have school-provided Chromebook computers, but the district does not use E-days. Superintendent Scott Inskeep cited the challenges of having the youngest students log on and read assignment directions, as well as many homes where students don’t have wi-fi internet access.

Inskeep said Kettering tries not to call off school too much — Friday was the third day this year — especially since close to 40 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch. He said students who participate in the district’s weekend food program were still able to pick up backpacks Friday if the families were able to get there.

If Kettering misses more than five days, the plan is to add makeup days in late May. A change in Ohio law a few years ago means schools don’t necessarily have to make up those “calamity day” closings after the first five.

FORECAST: Extreme change in weather coming this weekend

Schools now have more flexibility, as they are required only to educate students for a minimum number of hours — at least 910 for full-day kindergarten through sixth grade, and 1,001 for grades 7-12. School schedules vary, but most districts could miss more than five days and still be over the minimum. It’s a local decision of how to handle it.

Both Inskeep and Parker said schools can’t just use an E-Day to cover the next day’s material, assume all the kids got it on their own, and then move on. In fact, Inskeep and Dayton teachers union President David Romick both said the first day back to school is a slow one.

“This kind of break does have some impact,” said Romick, adding that Dayton Public Schools has an already-scheduled off day Monday as well. “We’re going to have to do some review work of what was done before break to catch kids back up. We re-establish that work, and then progress forward and try to catch up to the pacing guides.”

Pacing guides help teachers stay on track to get through all of the required material in a subject in a given quarter, semester or year. It’s already a challenge, as some students are academically ahead and others behind, so unexpected three-day breaks don’t help.

“For lot of families, one snow day has a fun aspect to it, but after that, they’re ready to come back to school,” Inskeep said. “(The break) does cause some pressure. Teachers care a lot and want to do the right thing. I’m excited to see a 50-degree forecast for next week, so we can get back at it.”

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