House panel approves bill allowing schools to eliminate 10 instructional days for weather

lblackford@herald-leader.comMarch 11, 2014 

A snowplow cleared North Limestone in Lexington on March 3, 2014.

PHOTO BY PABLO ALCALA | STAFF — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

FRANKFORT — The House Education Committee approved a bill that would allow school districts to waive as many as 10 days of school instead of making up all the time lost to bad weather this winter.

During the unusually harsh winter, some districts have missed as many as 30 days. House Bill 410 would excuse 10, but a district could choose to waive fewer than 10. Without the bill, which now goes to the full House, some districts would have to attend school for much of June.

The Kentucky Department of Education supported a substitute version of the proposal that would require districts to document their extenuating circumstances, but Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, said the added requirement would hinder districts trying to plan the rest of their school calendar right now, including which days will be used for state-mandated testing.

His colleagues agreed, choosing to vote on the original version of the bill instead of the substitute language.

Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, said he has received more than 100 calls from school officials. "The folks back home are really anxious to see this move forward," Heath said.

A similar proposal was added to the House budget Monday, but Stacy said waiting for the budget to pass would delay any implementation until the governor signs the budget, which probably won't happen until April.

Stacy, the sponsor of HB 410, said he hoped to get a vote for his bill on the House floor early next week. It would then go to the Senate.

He said winter is not yet over, and districts should not have to choose between required school days and student safety.

"I think it's a safety issue for our children," he said.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, voted "pass" on the bill, saying she worried about more harsh winters in the future and citing a need to consider long-range planning for school calendars.

"We really need to start thinking about year-round school so we can adjust the schedule a bit more easily," she said.

Another proposal, House Bill 383, would allow districts to create more innovative ways to continue instruction when school is canceled. It was approved by the House Education Committee on Feb. 25, but has not received a vote on the House floor.

School districts are required to have 170 instructional days, and some districts have been working on a snow-day pilot project that uses virtual learning when schools are closed, said Hiren Desai, associate commissioner at the Kentucky Department of Education.

"HB 410 does not adequately address all our core principles in the format in which it passed out of committee today, but we certainly hope there is further discussion moving forward and that the General Assembly ultimately passes calendar legislation through both chambers which addresses all these core principles and provides expedient relief to our school districts," Desai said.

Wayne Young, director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, said he thinks waivers for districts that have missed school because of weather should be granted on a case-by-case basis.

"That's the way it's always been done in the past," he said.

Knott County has missed 28 days of school so far and has already applied for a waiver, said Larry Thornbury, the district's director of school attendance.

One of the biggest concerns for school districts is students' performance on upcoming state tests, which might suffer from the missed days.

Still, nearly everyone involved said not much would be gained by making students go to school well into summer.

"We just have to work harder in the classroom," Thornbury said.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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