The Iowa Department of Education will not offer alternatives or an exemption to the Cedar Rapids Community School District to avoid stretching students' school year into mid-June.
Superintendent Dave Benson contacted the department late last week, following this year's fifth weather-related cancellation on Feb. 5, for information about options other than adding makeup days to the end of the 2013-2014 calendar.
“The law doesn’t give (Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck) any latitude when it comes to days in school. As such, there will be no exemptions for the school districts in Iowa who have been hit with snow days,” wrote Jim Flansburg, interagency liaison for the Iowa Department of Education, in an email to The Gazette.
“It’s not that we don’t want to provide relief to the school districts, it is that we don’t have the authority to do so."
Flansburg said a solution would have to come from the Legislature. State Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington, a former teacher and member of the Senate Education Committee, said he hasn't heard of a push to do so in the House or Senate but things could change.
House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said she and her legislative colleagues are "sensitive to the issue."
"This will push the school year into June, but we don’t want to shortchange students," she said.
Administrators from one or two other districts also had contacted the department about exemptions or alternatives, but Flansburg said that additional information on which districts was not available.
Benson had planned to discuss the development with members of the district’s school board at their next regular meeting, scheduled for Feb. 24, but an email from Community Relations Supervisor Marcia Hughes stated that he'd changed his mind.
"Given the (department's) decision, we will be going with the make-up dates according to our published calendar for this year," Hughes wrote in a message sent Feb. 12.
The email also says that Benson will not be discussing the calendar with board members on that date, but on Feb. 11 the superintendent said he planned to bring up the 2014-2015 schedule. The board approved a 2014-2015 calendar on Sept. 23, 2013, with a student start date of Tuesday, Aug. 26, and an end date of June 5, 2015.
Makeup days are scheduled throughout the year as well each weekday of the week immediately following the last day of class.
“We may discuss the impact of running a similar calendar next year,” Benson said Feb. 11. “I think there’s some community concern about that. We can talk about that and what, if anything, we want to do.”
Hughes said the agenda for the Feb. 24 meeting had not been finalized, so it is unknown if next year's calendar will be up for conversation.
Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, Iowa’s school districts will be able to measure their calendars in hours or days, with a full school year totaling either 1,080 hours or 180 days. That could have repercussions when it comes to extreme weather.
The current requirement is for students to be in class for 180 days each academic year.
Cedar Rapids’s 2014-2015 calendar includes 180 days for students. But Flansburg said that administrators have until early June to tell the department whether their districts will measure their calendars in days or hours, a decision he said cannot be changed during the school year.
House Study Bill 84, which was on the Iowa House debate agenda for Thursday, would help school districts next year because it calls for measuring instructional time in hours instead of days, according to floor manager Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia.
Although lawmakers understand it's been difficult, he said, he doesn't sense there is any support for granting district's relief this year.
Gazette reporter James Q. Lynch contributed to this report.