Kent schools test new blizzard bag system

Alicia Crabtree

After blasts of frigid temperatures and heavy snowfalls this winter, school districts, along with the state legislature and the Ohio Department of Education, are looking at a new way that they can balance out and correct excess calamity days in the future. 

Under the Ohio Revised Code, prior to the first day of August each year, a plan, popularly coined “blizzard bags,” may be submitted to require students to access and complete classroom lessons from the school’s website that will make up lost hours.

Jim Soyars, Kent City Schools’ director of business services, described how the Kent City School District has already tested the waters with blizzard bags this school year.

“I believe that after the calamity days, and I know that there was one day where we knew we were going to have a calamity day the next day, we had teachers send home stuff with the kids,” Soyars said. “But the other thing is if we know in advance that we’re going to have a snow day, then it’s always prudent to, instead of having kids making snowmen out in the yard, that we give them a little instruction.”

The Ohio Revised Code states, to the extent possible, teachers should update or replace lessons based on the current instructional progress.

Because calamity days are unpredictable, Soyars explained that teachers need to update the blizzard bags regularly.

“I know we have a certain curriculum that we have to go through during the school year. Obviously, if they [the teachers] pick a lesson that they’re going to do in September or October, that’s really not going to work,” Soyars said. “They do have to do some updating and try to do something relevant so the students can be working on what they usually would in January or February.”

Soyars said the bags give two options to the students.

“We can post [the work] to the website,” Soyars said. “Most of our teachers use a thing that’s called ProgressBook, which is a way for students or parents to log in. The teachers have a blog that’s a way they can put things up there for students to do.”

The other option, Soyars explains, is a take-home blizzard bag.

“We realize that not all of our students have access at home to a computer or the Internet, so the blizzard bag is the other way to send that home as well,” Soyars said.

According to the Ohio Revised Code, each student will be granted a two-week period from the date of posting to complete the lesson.

While some school districts are embracing the blizzard bag, others have yet to adopt it.

Russell Jones, Stow-Munroe Falls City School District’s superintendent, said his district hasn’t even considered using the blizzard bags.

“We have used seven snow days so far, or calamity days I should say, so we are two over,” Jones said. “Our contingency plan is to have those days made up at the end of the school year. So our last day scheduled is June 6, a Friday, so the plan at this point would be to have the students come back the following Monday and Tuesday, the 9th and 10th.”

Jones and Joe Giancola, Kent city school district superintendent, are watching closely to see what the state legislature does.

“There have been two different versions of extending the calamity days allotment, one from the House and one from the Senate,” Jones said. “They have not agreed; it’s in a subcommittee now of the two houses of the legislature and they are trying to work out a compromise. So we’ll see what that brings us and then we might have a different approach based on that finding.”

While Giancola declined an interview with the Stater, he did comment that Kent City Schools would like any relief that the Ohio legislature could give them.

Contact Alicia Crabtree at [email protected].