Schools have new option for calamity days

SALEM, Ohio (WKBN) — As this cold snap continues, a growing number of school districts in the area have been forced to change their schedules and a handful had to close for the day once again on Friday.

In Salem, it was the fifth time schools were canceled, meaning the district has now run out of its state allotment of so-called calamity days. And with more frigid weather predicted next week, the district is making plans to start using “blizzard bags,” which are essentially lessons students can study online using their home computers. The lessons can be accessed through their teachers’ websites and will be graded

Administrators say the lessons that would be taught this time of year are too important to risk.

“Losing this educational opportunity could not happen at a worse time for teachers, principals, superintendents, especially with all the high stakes testing coming up, so I think it’s more vital now than ever and certainly more viable to do now than at the end of the year,” said Salem Schools Superintendent Tom Bratten.

Teachers in the district pre-load three days worth of lessons for the students to study and complete in case they’re needed. Administrators hope the online program will allow the district to avoid having to make up the additional lost time in June, providing they don’t have to cancel any more than three more days of school.

Bratten said the blizzard bags lessons are universal enough that it would be relevant material anytime of the year, no matter what part of the curriculum the teachers are in.

“When we reach a point where students start missing so much school, they become behind educationally,” Bratten said.

Other districts, including West Branch in Mahoning County, also are using the blizzard bags.

One parent said she thinks the idea helps the kids keep up with their studies without punishing them when bad weather hits.

“Give them time for education and fun. You know, we can’t help Mother Nature. That’s not the school’s fault and it’s not the children’s fault,” said West Branch parent Charity Mondak.

Salem already has its blizzard bag loaded and ready to use.

“The plan is right now that if we don’t have school on Monday, that I’ll do an ‘all call’ of our parents so that they know how to access the website,” Bratten said.

Adminstrators said students without Internet access from home would be given hard-copy versions of the lessons. Students then would have up to two weeks to turn in the homework to get credit for it.

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