School Start Dates [updated]

The DE has released a five-page document providing guidance to districts on school state date waivers.

Applications for the 2015-2016 school year are due no later than March 15. For future school years, the waiver application will be due by November 1, with decision-notification no later than January 15.

A school district (or accredited nonpublic school or independently accredited school)  seeking a waiver bears the burden of proving that compliance with the start date law would have a significant negative educational impact and this document offers guidance on the type of evidence the director may consider.

The most important guidance is the list of reasons for a waiver that will not be considered to constitute a significant negative educational impact:

  • claimed adverse effect based on personal anecdotes, opinion pieces, or advocacy position papers (the director will consider whether scientifically based research or other peer-reviewed research supports the claim and will consider valid and reliable measures of local academic achievement and/or learning environment that demonstrate negative educational impact);
  • adverse effect that can be resolved or remedied through other means;
  • extra-curricular scheduling (schedules will adjust to accommodate start dates);
  • PSEO or local college calendars (students are not prohibited from attending college courses prior to the allowed K-12 start date);
  • completion of first semester before winter break (move to an hours-based calendar and fit the semester’s worth of hours in before the break);
  • professional development for teachers (allowed to take place before the instructional start date);
  • snow days (did we mention hours-based calendars?);
  • bus scheduling (revise your schedules/contracts); or
  • other rationales not related to academic achievement, instruction and/or learning environment.

I’m not sure what local district officials had planned for their waiver application, but I would be surprised to see any waivers granted. And I’m not the only one:

Of course, there is plenty of time for the Iowa Legislature to take action on this issue. HF 13, which would eliminate the start date limitation altogether has bipartisan support. The Senate Education Committee has a similar proposed bill, HSB 1058, which would also eliminate the start date limitation but adds language indicating that the determination of the start date be “based on the best educational interests of the students.” The subcommittee for this bill is a bit larger than usual, with five members: Bowman (D-Jackson), Hart (D-Clinton), Wilhelm (D-Howard), Sinclair (R-Wayne), and Johnson (R-Osceola). Note that Senator Johnson represents Okoboji and the Okoboji Tourism Committee has already registered against this bill, as well as HF 13.

Yet another bill addressing the school start date issue was filed yesterday in the Iowa Senate and referred to the education committee. SF 47 by Feenstra (R-Sioux) takes a different approach. It would set August 15 as the earliest permissible start date and June 15 as the latest permissible end date. Schools maintaining a year-round three semester school calendar would be exempted from this requirement and the penalty provision for impermissibly early starts. This bill would also eliminate DE authority to issue start date waivers.

Iowa City schools held the first day of classes for the 2014-2015 school year on August 19 and have proposed the same start date for the 2015-2016 school year (but almost certainly start on August 31 instead). Apparently other schools started earlier, but the August 15 date would be closer to actual start dates schools have been using than the September 1 date.

The Okoboji Tourism Committee, the Travel Federation of Iowa, and the Iowa State Fair have already registered against SF 47.

Update: there has been some interest on Twitter about the early start date penalty. Iowa Code 257.17 calls for a 1/180th reduction in state aid payments for each day of school held before the earliest permissible start date unless the school or district has been granted a start date waiver.

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