From the Iowa House Republicans:
After a mild beginning to the winter season, January hit the state hard with successive snow storms that blanketed the state in snow and cold. And with it came schools closings statewide.
The Department of Education doesn’t keep track of days called off school for weather, so hard numbers don’t exist. But anecdotally you’ll hear anywhere from 2 days to over a dozen days called off so far this season. And that many days will present a challenge to just about every school calendar out there.
School calendars are set locally by the school board with a few parameters from the state. Specifically those parameters are starting after August 23rd and counting the school year in either hours (1080) or days (180).
The Department of Education did put out a refresher on what options schools have now that they’re faced with longer school years because of weather-related closures.
Some of the more common ones are:
- Can the Governor pardon or the Department waive snow days? No, neither the Governor nor the Department have that authority. The number of days or hours is set in state law and can’t be side-stepped.
- Can schools use “e-learning” wherein a student accesses lessons or other school work from home through digital means? No, this wouldn’t count as instruction. Instruction must take place under the guidance and instruction of instructional staff at school. E-learning can also present equity of access concerns for students without proper equipment or connections, those with disabilities, or younger students who can’t self-guide.
How can districts make up those days without going to far into the beginning of summer? There are a few options, each depending on how the district’s calendar is currently setup and other local factors:
- They can add time to end of the remaining school days to make up any hours missed if they are using an hours-based calendar
- They can add weekend days, regardless of calendar type
- They can shorten or eliminate previously planned breaks, regardless of calendar type
Keeping in mind, districts must have public hearing to change calendar, just as they do to set the calendar before the year.
Snow and cold in Iowa are not new concepts and many districts plan their calendars accordingly. They often build in extra days or hours to ensure that should closures occur, they can still meet the minimum requirements in law. For those that are extended, there are other options that can be taken to ensure all students are given equal opportunity for obtaining a good education in our schools.
For additional information and scenarios, visit the DE’s site: https://educateiowa.gov/resources/laws-and-regulations/legal-lessons/snow-days