Education

No, the governor isn't going to forgive school snow days

Iowa school districts search for ways to make up dozens of hours of instruction lost to unrelenting winter

Sixth-grader Ethan Johnson watches as his balsa wood bridge begins to sag under weight at the Marion Home School Assistance Program on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. The bridge breaking was the culmination of the balsa wood enrichment class, and was supposed to have taken place two weeks ago. Weather cancelations forced postponement. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Sixth-grader Ethan Johnson watches as his balsa wood bridge begins to sag under weight at the Marion Home School Assistance Program on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. The bridge breaking was the culmination of the balsa wood enrichment class, and was supposed to have taken place two weeks ago. Weather cancelations forced postponement. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Even when talking with friends who work in Iowa schools, Central City Community Schools Superintendent Tim Cronin gets what he calls “the question.”

Can’t the governor just forgive all these snow days?

“It makes me smile,” Cronin said, “because it’s not even how that works.”

As with most Iowa school districts, Central City school district has canceled, delayed or sent students home early due to weather on dozens of days since January.

While Cronin considers it little more than urban legend, wishful students, parents and staff across the state have wondered if Gov. Kim Reynolds simply might pardon students of their lost time in the classroom.

In short: She can’t, her communications director said.

“Under Iowa law, the governor doesn’t have the legal authority to forgive snow days,” Pat Garrett told The Gazette in an email. “State law requires schools to hold class for a minimum of 1,080 hours or 180 school days per school year.”

With districts on their own to meet those requirements, many are considering pushing back their first day of summer, keeping students later into the afternoon or shaving days off Spring Break.

Even Central City Schools in Linn County — which started the year with a buffer of nearly 100 more hours of school than needed — is sorting out how to comply with state law.

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“I’d been saying to people, we have so many hours, we’d never have to make up a snow day,” Cronin said. “I’ve stopped saying that this year — because we ran out of hours.”

Counting the school year by hours, rather than days, has introduced flexibility for and variations among districts’ solutions. Many school districts have yet to finalize calendar changes with their school boards — partly because of a bevy of options to consider, and because brutal winter weather might not be done wreaking havoc on their calendars.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory this weekend until Sunday night, and snow is forecast for Wednesday.

In Cedar Rapids, the school board is considering doing away with half-days on Fridays from March through May and having full days of class on June 3, 4 and 5.

“The hope is to build as much instructional time as possible and to avoid taking other less-desirable approaches,” Cedar Rapids Community School District Superintendent Brad Buck said in a message to parents.

Those less-than-ideal solutions include, Buck said, adding minutes to each school day, extending the school year past June 7 and holding classes on Saturdays — which is allowed under Iowa Code.

Students in the Iowa City Community School District will stay at school 10 minutes later each day starting Monday, as they work to make up about 58 hours of missed class.

The slightly longer school day should — barring additional cancellations — move the last day of school for Iowa City only to May 31.

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Marion Independent School District is in the process of rescheduling teacher development and canceling some days off for students, including this Friday, Feb. 22.

“This is a continuing saga,” Marion Independent School District Superintendent Chris Dyer said in an email.

With no statewide school day forgiveness in the forecast, the only students who might dodge June classes are those in the graduating Class of 2019.

“The best part of this is if you’re a high school senior,” Central City’s Cronin said. “If I’m a high school senior, and my graduation date is prior to the last day anyway, I want those days tacked onto the end of the year.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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