New policy to allow school calendar flexibility

By Samuel Speciale, Education reporter

A policy proposed on Wednesday by the West Virginia Board of Education would let local superintendents request a waiver to the state’s required 180 days of in-school instruction.

The policy, which would only go into effect if the Legislature doesn’t pass a bill that offers a similar pardon, would alleviate the constraints of meeting the state’s instructional mandate, which hasn’t been enforced until this year. Waivers would have to be submitted to the board before its next meeting in April.

The bill, which passed the state Senate last month, has been pending in the House Education Committee since Feb. 27. It remains to be seen if the bill will pass by session’s end on Saturday, which prompted the board to approve the policy in time for counties to submit waivers and adjust their calendars before May, said Heather Hutchens, legal counsel to the Department of Education.

Hutchens, who presented the policy to the board, said it would allow local boards to use its “bank time” to make up for lost instruction.

Bank time is accrued by schools that teach longer than the minimum amount of time required by the state Department of Education each day. Currently, it is only used to negate lost instruction for two-hour delays and early dismissals.

The policy would extend that provision to full days for this year.

While seen as a measure that could save spring and summer breaks for some counties, approving the policy raised into question the board’s stance on required instructional time.

Board member Wade Linger indicated the board’s decision is an admission of defeat.

“We are backing down from the 180 day requirement,” he said.

“Feels like it, doesn’t it,” said board member Lloyd Jackson. “We all knew two years ago when this passed this day would come.”

While Jackson voted for the policy, Linger did not. The policy passed 6-1.

Linger, who said counties should be better prepared and schedule more out-of-calendar days that can be used to make up lost instruction, said the change should come from the Legislature, not the board.

“If they want to do this, that’s fine,” he said.

Whether by law or policy, the intention is to bypass language that requires 180 days of instruction be given on separate days. Under both the bill and policy, counties will only have to meet the equivalent of 180 days of instruction.

While, winter has been milder than those in the past, all counties in West Virginia have missed at least seven days because of weather and could stand to benefit from the board’s decision. Some counties, like Barbour and Calhoun have missed as many as 18 days.

The number of cancellations has caused several boards of education to extend the school year well into June. Some have taken days from spring break or canceled it altogether.

Keith Butcher, superintendent of Nicholas County Schools where school has been canceled 13 times this year, said his county has enough leftover bank time to regain four instructional days, but the policy would give even more flexibility.

While the board will accept waivers if the bill fails to pass, Department of Education officials said they do not want to set a precedent that loosens requirements.

“180 days is 180 days,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said. “I don’t want people to think because they have accrued time or can get a waiver they can get around that.”

Martirano went on to say that counties will still be expected to meet 180 days worth of instruction.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886. Follow him at www.twitter.com/wvschools.