Iowa cracks down on school districts


by Kesley Gilbert

PCM’s calendar already made one big change this year. Instead of counting the numbers of days students attend, the required time is now figured by the hours in school. Even further changing the calendar, the state of Iowa is now declaring start dates for all districts to only start on the week of Sept. 1. As for the possible coming changes from the state of Iowa, the new iron fist closing over the law on waivers given to schools that allow them to start earlier than Sept. 1 every year. State law mandates that schools may not start before that date, but districts may ask for a waiver, and all of the districts in Iowa, excluding one or two, typically get this wavier approved. Before this came to attention, schools did not present reasons for an earlier start date, even though the state requires it. Recently, Governor Branstad stated that every district must abide by this law and not start until the week of Sept. 1. PCM Schools usually start a week ahead of this date.
“I believe the ability to start at a certain date is something that should be determined locally by school administrators and school board. They know what is best for their communities, not by state level, who have no idea what their community feels is important,” High School Principal Scott Bridges said in an email he had sent to Governor Branstad. “I feel this is driven by economic reasons, and Branstad only did it because he wants school to start after The Iowa State Fair. This really has nothing to do with what is best for students and schools; it all has to do with big business.”
Legislators are looking to put a bill together to repeal the state laws, so the ability for districts to start earlier can be determined locally, instead of at a state level.
As for the change to hours, PCM administrators looked at benefits of this new school calendar and then presented the PCM school board with the hours calendar. The school board approved the calendar. The state of Iowa changed the law, and instead of students attending 180 days, schools may change to 1,080 required hours. PCM has scheduled more than 1,080 hours, however, because though the district has an hourly calendar now, the district has a certain amount of curriculum to get through, and those hours didn’t equal the same length as the days.
Despite this new schedule there was a flaw in the law that made the hours schedule legal: The state considers the day to be six hours, and before they changed the law, if a district made the attempt to go to school, that school could count it as a day. When the state changed the law to go with the days calendar, to count it as a day, schools had to go for those set number of hours, and if not reached, then the school had to attend that day again.
Switching to the hours calendar will save the school money on those days when the school has to get out early or attend late, for even if the school were to go only two hours that day, those two hours would still be counted toward the new hours calendar.
With this new crackdown, and with the already-set change to hours instead of days, the upcoming 2015-16 school calendar may change in many ways.