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Changing school calendars-Think about hours, not days

February 11, 2000

After watching the school systems around the state lose a number of days to snow this year, some West Virginia lawmakers want to give local school boards the power to determine how many days students must attend schools.

If they're talking about letting local school boards "write off" missed days, we're opposed, but if what they want is more flexibility in deciding how to make them up, we're in favor of that.

The plan is still taking shape, but its broad purpose is to loosen the state law requirement that students get 180 to 185 days of instruction between August 26 and June 8. Because of a greater-than-expected number of snow days this school year, lawmakers fear local school systems won't get all their days in by the June deadline.

Tuesday's hearing on the bill was less than illuminating, with Gov. Cecil Underwood and Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin both saying that they favor more flexibility, as long as all students attend for the same number of days. Tom Lange, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said he didn't believe a missed school day meant a day of learning lost, because students could use snow days to catch up on their homework.

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We suggest that it's not days the lawmakers should be worried about, but hours. If the state law was amended to define the school year as a certain number of hours of instruction, rather than 180 to 185 days, school boards would have the flexibility they need.

One system might choose to make up snow days by extending the school day by an hour, or starting it an hour earlier. Other systems might want to consider Saturday sessions to recoup lost days.

Either method would avoid keeping students in class during hot weather, where they'd likely learn less anyway. Nor would either cut into the time teachers need to take classes for recertification. Learning's learning, after all, and if local students and parents have a say in how to make up for lost time, they're likely to learn more as a result.

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