Late start date will have little impact
By AUDREY INGRAM
Aligning schedules with local community colleges and completing semesters before winter break are not reasons that will get school districts an early start waiver for the 2015-16 school year, according to guidelines issued by the Iowa Department of Education last week.
This year, only two of Iowa’s 338 school districts did not receive a waiver to start before the week of Sept. 1. But in December, department director Brad Buck announced the department’s intention to crack down on early start dates. A letter to districts said waivers would only be awarded if the district could show that starting at the end of August would have a “significant negative educational impact.”
Last week’s guidelines from the department specified that this impact on academic achievement had to be shown through academic data.
During a Greene County Community school board meeting last Wednesday night, superintendent Tim Christensen said it would essentially take an “act of God” for a school district to receive an early start waiver for 2015-16.
But because Greene County Schools run a trimester schedule instead of a semester schedule, starting later won’t have a huge impact on Greene County students, except that classes will run into June, he said.
The majority of dual enrollment classes in the district are taught on-site, making aligning schedules with community colleges less of a concern for the district as well, he added.
One potential problem is the timing of the AP calculus exam, which is taken in early May, Christensen said. If students start 10 days later, they will have that much less time to prepare for the test, through which students can earn college credit.
The district has started before the first week of September for at least the last decade, Christensen said.
According to the letter sent to districts last Wednesday, students are not prohibited from attending college classes even if their high school classes have not started yet.
Finishing the semester before winter break is still possible because the schools have to attend a certain amount of hours, not days, giving the districts flexibility, the department letter states.
Professional development can start before classes begin, and sports schedules can be adjusted according to start dates, the letter continues.
Early start dates have been a point of contention between school districts seeking to wrap up classes before winter break, and tourism groups that argue loss of revenue during those final weeks of August when families can no longer take vacations.
State legislators introduced bills this month to address school start-date concerns.
A House bill would give districts the ultimate authority to decide when the school year starts and ends. A Senate bill would move the earliest start date allowed for districts to Aug. 15 and would reduce state financial aid for districts that start even earlier in August.
Both bills have bipartisan support, although it’s unclear when they might be put to a vote in either chamber.