TWIN FALLS — A harsh winter has created a headache for Magic Valley schools, forcing cancellations.
But a bill is moving through the Idaho legislature that could provide relief.
Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, introduced a bill March 2 to allow school districts to seek a waiver of minimum instructional hour requirements — meaning students may not have to make up as much time. It passed the House Thursday and now heads to the Senate.
Some Magic Valley school districts, though, wouldn’t benefit from it — even this winter. That’s because they built in enough extra instructional hours into the calendar beyond the minimum requirements.
Minidoka County School District has logged 12 days of school closures due to severe weather and flooding — the equivalent of more than two weeks of school.
And Acequia Elementary School in Rupert has been closed for 15 days and dealt with flooding on surrounding roads.
But the district wouldn’t need to seek a waiver.
“We were well over the minimum requirements,” Superintendent Ken Cox said. “So we lucked out.”
He said he hasn’t read the bill text, but thinks the legislation is a good idea.
To try to gain back classroom time, the district already switched two days slated for parent-teacher conferences — April 13-14 — into regular school days. And schools made other minor schedule changes, such as no recess for kindergartners.
The bill has an emergency clause, so it would become effective immediately, instead of July 1, if it’s signed by the governor, said Blake Youde, spokesman for the Idaho Board of Education.
“The goal is that we would be able to help districts out for this year,” said Debbie Critchfield of Oakley, a member of the Idaho Board of Education. She’s also the the spokeswoman for the Cassia County School District.
Local school boards can waive up to 11 hours of instructional time themselves, she said, because of weather or facility issues.
The state superintendent of public instruction can waive additional hours for a school, Critchfield said. But an issue arose this year: There’s no mechanism to waive hours for an entire school district, she said.
Two districts approached the Idaho Board of Education with that concern.
“We worked to put this bill together quickly for this session,” Critchfield said.
In order to qualify, an entire school district would be impacted by “unforeseen circumstances as a result of a natural occurrence.”
Plus, it would have to be located in an area affected by a county or state emergency declaration.
School districts would have to provide a plan showing how they’d try to make up as many hours as possible.
Idaho requires students to be in class for a minimum of 450 hours for kindergarten, 810 for first through third grades, 900 for fourth through eighth grades and 990 for ninth through 12th grades.
In Buhl, “the waiver wouldn’t have done anything for us,” Superintendent Ron Anthony said.
Buhl has logged 10 snow days. That’s more Anthony has seen in his entire 30-plus years as an educator.
The district isn’t technically required to make up hours. But school officials want students to spend more time in class anyway.
To make that happen, five late-start Mondays were canceled, meaning students will arrive at school earlier. Students and teachers also came to school March 3, a Friday originally slated as a day off.
This winter has mostly been a challenge for classroom planning, Anthony said. “That was the real difficulty we had. The timing was never good to keep the flow.”
Twin Falls and Cassia County school district students won’t have to make up hours either.
The Jerome School District has a plan to meet instructional hour requirements and ensure students spend more hours in class.
“We’ve made a good faith effort, I think,” Superintendent Dale Layne said. “There’s a plan in place to meet requirements as long we don’t have another snow day in March or April.”
In total, Jerome schools have had eight snow days. Plus, schools were dismissed early two other days because snow drifts led to road closures.
Students are going to school for an extra hour every Friday — a schedule that will continue until the end of the school year.
Previously, students got off early, and the time was used for teacher collaboration.