A new law governing school instruction time has both pros and cons, according to area educators.
Iowa school districts are currently faced with the decision between staying with the current system, logging total number of days in a school year, or switching to accounting for the total number of hours to meet the state's minimum attendance requirements.
The Decorah School Board was to have set a public hearing on the matter Wednesday.
According to Decorah Superintendent Mike Haluska, historically, all districts have followed a calendar based on 180 days. A "day" consisted of 5.5 hours, which often allowed schools to log a full day even in the case of early dismissals for inclement weather, professional development time, etc.
Under the new law, school must be in session for six hours of instructional time in order to count a "day." Time in between classes is still counted, but lunch is not.
"The real issue lies in the fact that if the six-hour minimum isn't achieved during that day, the district isn't allowed to count the day as an attendance day," said Haluska, adding the following example: "We are able to begin the school day, but winds pick up during the day and create dangerous driving conditions and school is dismissed two hours early. Were that to happen, that day would not count as one of the 180 days," he said.
By March 1, Districts will be required to choose an option.
They can either: A) choose the old "days logged" system, where students are required to attend a total of 180 days of at least six hours; or B) choose the "hours logged" system, where students must attend at least 1,080 hours in a school year.
Haluska said because teaching staff is only contracted for a certain number of days, districts couldn't afford to ask teachers to teach "partial days" that don't count toward the 180 total. He said Decorah pays roughly $35,000 per day for its teaching staff.
"This conundrum alone would force districts to cancel school every day where the potential existed for a late start for, say, fog or an early-dismissal for an impending winter storm. Imagine the number of days that could be missed and how late into June this could possibly push the school year. It would become almost impossible to establish times for vacation bible school or summer programs with Park and Rec," said Haluska.
North Winneshiek Superintendent Tim Dugger said he thinks the change will allow more flexibility with professional development time for the staff.
"I think in the long run it makes schools more accountable for each hour the kids are in school," said Dugger.
South Winn/Turkey Valley Superintendent Chris Hoover and Haluska agreed.
"I see the pros as flexibility with professional learning and flexibility when needed to start late or get out early. It would be nice to be able to count the hours we are in school regardless of whether or not we had six hours of instruction," said Hoover.
Haluska added, "Hours completed are exactly that, and potential late starts and early outs can be planned for, based upon extremes the district has seen in the past. We can also provide more full-day professional development for staff without having to utilize two-hour early dismissals, which often create even greater problems for parents. In the end, there is no doubt in my mind this is the best option for the Decorah Schools."