Senate has it right on school start

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Iowa Senate should be applauded for approving Senate File 227 by a vote of 32 to 17. The

bill, if approved by the Iowa House, would give school boards the final decision on establishing school calendars.

The current law requires the school year to start no earlier than the week in which Sept. 1 falls (Monday, Aug. 31 in 2015). However, the law allows districts to apply for an alternative calendar and the Iowa Department of Education has routinely approved such requests.

Last fall, the DOE informed school districts that such requests would not be routinely approved.

The House has been working toward a compromise between current law and no start date law at all by setting Aug. 23 as the earliest start date (Aug. 24 in 2015 since the 23rd is on Sunday).

Most people on either side of start date issue are primarily motivated by reasons other than educational benefits. The advocates of a later start date want to continue tourism through August, while the advocates of an early start date want a combination of ending the first semester before Christmas, a two-week Christmas break and a week-long spring break.

Unless there is an educationally significant advantage for a specific calendar, this decision should be left up to local school boards.

There are at least two Iowa school districts that offer optional alternative elementary schools that have non-traditional calendars set for maximum educational advantage. Students, parents and educators from the year-round schools in Des Moines and Indianola rallied at the Iowa Capitol to be allowed to continue with their more educationally sound practice of eliminating the long summer break in favor of breaks throughout the year.

Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, chairman of the House Education Committee, said his panel is working on an amendment to the House bill to accommodate year-round schools.

Why not simply accommodate whatever calendar any school district decides to use to meet the required number of school days?