Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Snow may stretch out school year

The Cincinnati Enquirer

[street signs]
The intersection of Snowflake Lane and Jack Frost Way in Colerain Twp. was dressed for the part Tueday morning.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Tuesday's late-winter coating of white — following January's snowy start — has put many Tristate school districts in the red for snow days.

        It was snow day No. 9 Tuesday for some districts and as high as No. 11 for others around Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. All or some of those days must be made up, depending upon state law.

        Two to 9 inches of snow fell around the Tristate on Tuesday, said Mark Tobin, meteorologist for AccuWeather, making for a messy morning rush hour.

        And that's even though Cincinnati more than doubled the amount of equipment it used to treat city streets compared with earlier storms — an effort that did not go unnoticed by residents.

Katie Currie, 3, tastes a giant snowball as she rides on the shoulders of neighbor Jennifer Stolz in Devou Park, Covington.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        “(The streets) obviously hadn't been done in January. They obviously had this time,” said Edward G. Marks, 58, of Clifton.

        The weather should be “quieter” today, said Mr. Tobin. It will likely be brisk and cold this morning with a low of 28 degrees and a chance of flurries.

        Temperatures are expected to rise to 38 degrees this afternoon — warm enough to melt more of the snow, and get schoolchildren back on the bus and workers back to the office.

        Closing in on double-digit snow days is unusual for the area, school officials say, and it calls for creative ways to make up missed time.

        Students may face shortened spring breaks, lengthened school days, a school year stretched deeper into June or Saturday classes.

Jason Lauer shovels snow in Lakeside Park.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        “Today will be made up on the first day of spring break — Monday, March 29. If we have more snow days, we'll push to the 30th and 31st,” said Dennis Devine, superintendent of West Clermont Local School District, where Tuesday marked day No. 6. “We're preparing the letter now for parents.”

        In Fairfield schools, Tuesday's eighth snow day threatened to postpone graduation day. That prospect arose just a week after officials figured out how to make up two January snow days while keeping the May 28 graduation on schedule.

        “We came up with a plan. Weather killed it,” Superintendent Charles Wiedenmann said. “The bottom line is, we're down to spring break or Saturdays, if we're going to (have) graduation on the 28th.”

States set limits
        Tuesday's snow pushed many Ohio districts over the five-day limit of “calamity days” schools can miss without having to make them up. Districts are required to have a plan for making up an additional five days beyond the calamity days.

        Cincinnati Public Schools closed Tuesday, but it was only the fourth calamity day of the school year. The 47,200-student district, the Tristate's largest, never has used more than the alloted five days, a spokeswoman said. Cincinnati Public often will open schools despite snow but not provide yellow-bus service, asking students to attend the school closest to home.

        In Kentucky and Indiana, all missed school days must be made up.

        Indiana districts are getting a break this school year, after weather canceled classes the first two weeks of January. An emergency policy from the state education department allows districts to apply for waivers for some missed days, said Tony Samuel, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education.

        Under the formula, Rising Sun and Switzerland County schools — both of which missed nine days — will make up six. Sunman-Dearborn schools, which missed 11 days, must make up seven.

        Tuesday marked the ninth day off for Kenton County Schools, and the eighth day for Boone and Campbell county schools. Under Kentucky law, classes must be in session 1,050 hours each school year.

        Most Kentucky schools plan for about 10 makeup days and work them into the calendar.

Workers play hooky
        While school districts were figuring out how to make up lost days, Tristate commuters were figuring out how to get to work.

        The answer for many: Stay home.

        Canceled classes took school buses and teachers and staff off the roads. Parents strapped to find day care stayed home with their children, too.

        Downtown parking garages and lots were half-empty Tuesday.

        “I think a lot of people got a chance to play hooky,” said Jeff Jones, general manager for Central Parking, which operates the Cinergy Field lots and other downtown parking garages. The Cinergy garage had 900 to 1,000 empty spaces Tuesday. Usually only 200 to 300 spaces are unfilled.

        Allright Corp., which operates 48 parking locations, was lucky if it saw 50 percent of the normal number of customers, President Bob Schroer said.

        But for commuters who did venture out, morning rush hour was a mess at times.

        Slushy roads and still-falling snow sent cars into ditches and contributed to a number of fender-benders Tuesday morning.

        Helicopter traffic reporter John Phillips said he was reporting about a dozen wrecks every half-hour.

        “And I probably missed 30 percent of them,” he said, noting that a “busy” morning normally is two dozen accidents for the entire morning commute time.

        The accidents translated to backups, especially between 6 and 8:30 a.m., said Mary McConnell, an AR TIMIS supervisor who watched Tuesday morning's commute on the traffic management center's television screens as cameras fed images from the interstates.

        “Schools closing early helped traffic,” she said. “But our traffic appeared to be heavier because of minor accidents.”

        By 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, AAA Cincinnati had fielded about 1,000 calls for help. That's 200 to 300 more calls than it usually handles daily, said AAA Cincinnati spokeswoman Amy Frede.

        “Most people have been in minor accidents and need a tow or they're stuck in a ditch or driveway,” she said.

        But the storm didn't punish motorists as storms earlier this season did. The 1,000 calls by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday was only about 60 percent of the 1,600 calls AAA got by 2 p.m. after a December storm that left car locks frozen and batteries dead.

        And city of Cincinnati residents woke up to cleaner streets than they did during January's storms. The city had 116 pieces of snow equipment on the streets, up from 52 pieces of equipment earlier this year.

        Salt trucks didn't get to Paul Davis' Price Hill home quickly enough in January, leaving him iced in. But on Tuesday, he watched a pickup with a plow go by at 8 a.m.

        “He didn't just go up once,” said Mr. Davis, 54. “He spent several passes. He did a nice job.”

        Dana DiFilippo, Bernie Mixon, Miriam Smith, Andrea Tortora and Sue Kiesewetter contributed to this story.


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