DES MOINES, Iowa -- A wicked winter has dropped a handful of snow days on schools across the state, but an extra outdoor play day for students is not all fun for school district officials trying to meet requirements from the Iowa Department of Education.
"Schools have the option between choosing 180 days for the school year or 1,080 hours," said Ryan Wise, director of the Iowa Department of Education. The challenges for districts trying to hit 180 days or 1,080 hours can differ especially when weather triggers a late start time or an early out. "Six hours of instructional time, then they are able to count it as a day of school. On the hours side it would be the number of hours the students are in school."
Lengthening an individual school day to make up for snow days only benefits districts using the hours system. Wise said, "I think it is a decision that has to be made locally. I know superintendents look at a number of factors like what neighboring districts do."
Districts can also get creative by using already planned and scheduled parent-teacher conferences. "That is time when teachers are present. The school is in session technically so that can count towards how districts think of hours of instruction," said Wise. And there is always the weekend. Wise explained, "There's nothing in Iowa code that says it has to be Monday through Fridays. So there is flexibility there as well."
Options continue evolving. The hours option was added just five years ago and with advancements in technology, the next to receive a passing grade could be in your hand or lap. School from home through virtual classrooms may soon qualify as instructional time which could kiss snow days as we know them goodbye.
"We are starting to get more questions about hey can we have a conversation about this as a state moving forward that might or might not be an option and what are some things we might consider if we moved in that direction," Wise said.
Many school districts try to begin the year with an overage of days or hours to prevent having to add to their calendar if possible. Seniors who have already met graduate requirements may also be exempt from having to make up snow days.