Schools must go 180 days, state school board says

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Schools must go 180 days, state school board says
By Samuel Speciale, Education reporter, Charleston Daily Mail   
The West Virginia Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously denied requests from 29 counties to bypass state laws that require 180 separate days of instruction, a benchmark many districts will only meet this year by pushing the last day of school well into June.

The move comes one month after the board agreed to allow county superintendents to request instructional time waivers for their districts after a mild, but at times harsh winter closed schools for weeks. All counties in West Virginia missed at least seven days this year, while some, like Barbour and Calhoun, missed as many as 18.

While board members and Superintendent Michael Martirano have maintained they would not back down from the 180-day requirement, Department of Education officials indicated last month that counties may be permitted to use “bank time” to make up for lost instruction. Board President Gayle Manchin said Monday that using bank time was discussed but that “no one said it would be used to make up full days of instruction.”

Whether prompted by that confusion or not, all 29 applying counties asked the board to let their superintendent use bank time to reduce the number of instructional days that would need to be made up.

Bank time is accrued by schools that teach longer than the minimum amount of time required by the department each day. Currently, it only can be used to make up lost instruction from two-hour delays and early dismissals.

By denying the waivers, the board upheld instructional mandates outlined in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s 2013 education reform legislation, Senate Bill 369.

Manchin said promoting that bill’s “new path for education in West Virginia where benchmarks are valued and enforced” and then backing down would have sent the wrong message.

“If we say the benchmark is 180 days, then that’s what we need to uphold,” she said.

While the law wasn’t enforced until this school year, Manchin said county schools chiefs should have been aware of the changes and that they should approach calendaring more realistically by front-loading instructional days.

“Build in days earlier,” she said, adding that Cabell County, which starts school earlier than most districts, will still close its calendar in May despite having to make up seven days.

The board also will not excuse counties affected by a federal disaster declaration for days missed during Winter Storm Thor.

When asked if the vote would have gone differently had counties had to schedule instructional days past June — something state law does not permit — Manchin said she wasn’t sure.

Currently, all counties in West Virginia will complete their calendar by June 25.

The Legislature attempted to lessen the instructional time mandate this year, but the bill did not pass.

The board also was supposed to take up its controversial Next Generation science education standards on Wednesday, but Manchin amended the agenda by moving the issue to today.

The standards, which board members unanimously approved in December, were nationally scrutinized when it was learned that Wade Linger asked department staff to change standards on climate change, a move many say casts doubt on the credibility of research that claims human greenhouse emissions cause global warming.

Facing backlash, the board pulled those standards in January and placed them back on public comment in their original, unaltered state.

The department received thousands of comments that supported the standards’ original language on human activity causing climate change, though many originated from organizations and people outside West Virginia. Many others, though smaller in number, supported the approved, changed standards.

In total, the department has more than 800 pages of comments from local residents, teachers and other community members as well as petitions from West Virginia University, the state Science Teachers Association and other organizations.

The board is expected to approve the unaltered standards, which will go into effect July 1, 2016.

In other business, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has asked the board to commission a report of curricular and facilities needs at the state’s deaf and blind schools to determine the schools’ continued viability.

The school was set to receive funding aid when a bill that would have made it eligible for School Building Authority money passed both legislative houses but Tomblin ultimately vetoed the bill.

The board, which oversees the school, will meet with the governor and other education officials on April 24 to discuss how to carry out the assessment.

In its first meeting since the legislative session’s end, the board also briefly discussed education bills signed into law that will require changes in policy. Department officials said 39 bills related to education were passed and that 13 board policies will need to be revised over the next year.