State board correct to uphold 180-day standard for schools

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State board correct to uphold 180-day standard for schools
Herald Dispatch editorial

Last month, members of the West Virginia Board of Education sent out the signal that it would consider letting county school systems off the hook for meeting the state's requirement of conducting classes 180 days during the school year.

That signal - made by the board's approval on March 11 of a process for counties to request a waiver from the requirement - was the wrong one.

But on Wednesday, the state board corrected that potential mistake by denying all county requests - from 27 of the state's 55 county school systems - to be allowed to fall short of the 180-day standard.

That was the proper decision. It conforms to state law, and it underscores that providing a full school year of instruction is important to West Virginia's children. The decision also takes into account that county school systems now have much more flexibility in designing yearly school calendars that build in contingencies for making up school days canceled by inclement weather or perhaps other causes, such as utility problems.

State law has long had the standard of 180 instructional days, but seldom did all counties meet it. Part of the problem is that the state allowed only a 200-day window for classes to be held. A few years ago, the state allowed counties to adjust that window somewhat, but still many counties struggled to meet the target.

In 2013, however, the legislature passed a bill proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin firming up the mandate of 180 separate instruction days, with an emphasis on "separate." It also allowed counties to expand their school calendars to 48 weeks long if necessary to make up for lost school days so long as they ended by June 30. It was up to the counties to design school calendars that would work in this new context.

As it turned out, all of the counties seeking waivers from the 180-day requirement can make up all the school days they lost within the expanded time span spelled out in state law. And they should be required to do so, as the state board rightly decided this week.

The reinforced message to county school boards and their superintendents is that they will need to do a better job in designing their school calendars and be adaptable to making adjustment as needed as the school year progresses. Gambling on winter-long cooperation from the weather is not a good bet, and school systems shouldn't make it.

Perhaps this would not be such an issue if student achievement in the state's public schools exceeded that of most other states. But that is not the case. Meanwhile, it's important to stress that a full year of instruction is a must, not an elusive target that is simply optional.