2019 WINTER WEATHER

Snow days extend Cedar Rapids school year to June 5

Governor not weighing in yet on bill that would cap time on make-up days

Students make their way to buses during an early dismissal for expected deteriorating road conditions in the College Community School District in southwest Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Students make their way to buses during an early dismissal for expected deteriorating road conditions in the College Community School District in southwest Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Thanks to hazardous weather this winter, students in the Cedar Rapids Community School District are set to be in school until June 5.

The Cedar Rapids school board this week approved an updated calendar for the remainder of the school year that addresses the multiple school cancellations because of snow, ice and cold since January. The last day of school was previously set for May 31.

In addition to extending the school year, the board voted to end early dismissals on Fridays, opting for full school days.

The updated calendar implements some of the many solutions school district officials across Iowa are considering as they sort out how to have 1,080 hours or 180 days of class before summer, as required by Iowa law.

For students and staff looking to avoid school stretching into June, spring break or even Saturdays, a bill introduced in the House last week offered a glimmer of hope.

House File 492 would cap the time public and accredited non-public schools would need to make up at 30 hours or five days.

For Cedar Rapids schools, Superintendent Brad Buck said he is unclear “what we’re trying to solve” with the legislation.

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“We have that flexibility now,” he said. “I worry, when we pass bills for acute challenges, what the unintended consequences are. I feel like we have enough tools in our tool kit locally to make things work, at least in our current context with this weather.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds, through a spokesman, also pointed to the flexibility school districts already have for making up class time.

“The governor recognizes schools districts have flexibility to make up class time because they can choose a minimum 1,080-hour annual school calendar instead of the traditional minimum 180 days,” Reynolds’ Communications Director Pat Garrett told The Gazette in an email. “She also is interested in exploring how e-learning could fit into how schools address snow days, but she realizes that whether all students have access to the internet has to be considered.”

Ultimately, “Gov. Reynolds wants to see the legislation in its final form before she weighs in,” Garrett said.

Should the legislation become law, it would not affect the Iowa City Community School District, Superintendent Stephen Murley said, unless another round of severe weather hits. The board there already has approved a new calendar that adds 10 minutes onto each school day.

But the legislation could help districts struggling to meet state requirements, Murley said. His district started the year with so much extra time in its calendar that it’s not in a deficit.

“One thing the bill does provide is, when you have an excessive winter like you’re having right now, at some point in time you run out of reasonable opportunities to make that time up,” he said, recalling one year when the school year had to end on a Monday and attendance plummeted.

Iowa City schools opted to add time back in throughout the remainder of the year, rather than tack days on in June, to give students more class time before Advanced Placement tests and for second trimester courses.

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“This (bill) recognizes that there’s a level at which the make up may not be as educationally effective as you’d like it to be,” Murley said. “ ... It might meet the letter of the law, but it might not be educationally sound.”

Views on how the legislation could impact student instruction vary. The Clear Creek Amana Community School District last week approved a calendar that extends the year until June 7 and “forgave” 29 hours of instruction lost to weather. School was set the end on June 3.

“It’s a tough decision, if that would go through,” Superintendent Tim Kuehl said of the proposed bill. “We value that instructional time, and I don’t think we’re going to be held less accountable or feel less responsible for student learning. It’s hard to ensure that if we don’t have school.”

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

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