The Ohio Department of Education recently announced that it will temporarily lift the August 1st deadline for submission of online calamity day make-up plans to assist school districts that have experienced a high number of weather-related closings this school year.

Online make-up plans, commonly referred to as “blizzard bag” plans, allow schools to make up as many as three days during a school year in which a school or district exceeds the five permissible calamity day closings granted under law. Ohio law, specifically ORC §3313.88, requires a board to submit an online make-up plan to ODE by August 1st each school year. Districts must also include a copy of the board resolution and written consent from the teacher’s union at the time of submission. For this year only, ODE has temporarily waived the deadline requirement.

A district online make-up plan must include several key provisions. Pursuant to ORC 3313.88, each teacher must develop a sufficient number of lessons for each course taught by that teacher in the school year to equal or exceed the amount of instruction a student would otherwise receive over three regular days in the teacher’s class. Under normal circumstances, Ohio law requires that teachers complete the lessons by November 1st.

In addition, teachers must specify the order in which the lessons will be posted on the district’s website. Teachers are also responsible for updating or replacing lessons as necessary throughout the school year based on the instructional needs and progress of the students in each class. Districts have the option to grant teachers one professional development day after the district certifies that the teacher has completed and submitted lessons equal to the specified amount of instructional time included in the plan.

The district employees who are responsible for posting material on a district or school website must make the lessons available online to students as soon as is practicable after a school closure which will be made up pursuant to the plan. A lesson must be posted for each course that was scheduled to meet on the day that school is closed.

Students enrolled in a particular course or class for which a lesson is posted online will have two weeks from the date of posting to complete and turn in the lesson. A student who does not complete the lesson within this timeframe will receive an incomplete or failing grade unless the student has a sufficient reason for late submission as determined by the classroom teacher. The student’s classroom teacher will be responsible for grading all online lessons.

In order to accommodate students who may not have access to a computer, the law requires that a district choose between one of two options. Under the first option, districts must permit students who do not have access to a computer to complete the posted lessons at school when the school reopens. The district shall provide access to district computers before, during and/or after the school day for completion of assignments provided the equipment is available and accessible during those times, or alternatively may provide a paper assignment that is substantially equivalent. Students who utilize this option will be required to complete and submit all lessons within two weeks after the school reopens.

As a second option, districts may elect to distribute “blizzard bags”, which are paper copies of each lesson posted online. Teachers are required to prepare paper copies of all online lessons, and also to update the paper copies whenever the teacher updates an online lesson. A district must specify how blizzard bags will be distributed in the district’s plan.

Districts that have chosen to take advantage of ODE’s offer to approve and submit plans for this school year should keep several things in mind. First, ODE will not permit districts to make up days that have already been taken. Rather, districts may only utilize the online-makeup option for calamity days that occur after the district submits its plan. Second, a district should consult with legal counsel to discuss how use of blizzard bags may impact students who receive special services under an IEP pursuant to state and federal law.

Finally, districts that wish to approve online make-up plans for next school year will need to adjust the plans to accommodate Ohio’s new minimum hour requirement. When the Ohio legislature passed HB 59, it elected to eliminate the five calamity days currently available to schools and also switch from a minimum day to minimum hour requirement. Beginning in 2014-2015, districts may still close buildings during emergency conditions, but must ensure that schools provide at least the minimum hours of instruction during the school year mandated by law. Online class make-up of up to three days will still be available to districts that fall below the minimum hour requirement, provided that districts submit plans by August 1st each year.

For additional details about online make-up plans and submission, you are encouraged to contact your district’s legal counsel or the Ohio Department of Education.

UPDATE: The Ohio Department of Education has agreed to permit schools to apply online class plans retroactively for calamity days that have already been taken and which exceed the five days permitted by law. However, districts may not post lessons or distribute blizzard bags to make up any missed days until they receive a written notice of approval from ODE.

Legal Citations: ORC §3313.88 (renumbered effective July 1, 2014 as ORC §3313.482), ORC §3313.48, ORC §3313.481, and ORC §3317.01.