Calamity days are truly calamitous for charters

Many Ohio school districts have surpassed their state-allotted five "calamity days" this year. Consequently, charter schools have learned district calamity days are even more calamitous because they are at the mercy of local school districts for busing.

The problem is charters don't get calamity days, so when a district closes for bad weather, unless a charter school provides its own busing (a rarity), the charter school must also close. In Fordham's small world of seven charter schools, if a school closes for bad weather we invariably get some phone calls from parents asking why they can't just drop their children off at school.

Good idea, but it doesn't work that way. Many parents don't volunteer to drive children to school when the buses aren't running. So, when a community school remains open, many students are absent. This, in turn, kills attendance figures for the school, which must have 93 percent or higher attendance to meet the state's Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) mandate. On the other hand, if a charter closes, the school is hurt because it must provide at least 920 hours of instruction. So, the school saves on attendance but loses on instruction time.

A possible solution is for community schools to offer the state minimum of 920 hours of instruction but match their schedules to their local district. In this way they would not be dinged on AYP attendance and they could take advantage of the transportation provided by districts on district "make-up" days. The downside is that this would mean a move away from innovative schedules that encourage additional instructional hours and days for needy students.

Or, maybe charters should cut transportation ties with districts entirely and rely on parents getting their children to and from school. The vast majority of Michigan charter schools do this now, and parents have signed up to the deal. This also frees up charter schools in Michigan to set their calendars - length of day and year - as they think works best academically for students, as opposed to what works for district bus schedulers.

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