Schools could be allowed options on makeup days

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP/WANE) — State education officials are considering whether to allow Indiana school districts to make up some of this winter’s numerous snow days by scheduling longer school days or having online instruction on a Saturday.

State schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz said she will soon outline options for districts that in many cases have canceled more than a week of school because of heavy snow and extreme cold.

A district could add an additional hour to six school days to make up for one lost day or schools with the proper technology could provide weekend instruction over the Internet to obtain a waiver from the state’s requirement of 180 school days, Ritz told The Indianapolis Star.

“It would be what I call a conditional waiver,” Ritz said. “You apply for the waiver and you say: `We want to waive these number of days and this is how we will make up the time.”‘

Ritz spoke after the State Board of Education agreed on Thursday to extend the time period for next month’s ISTEP standardized testing. The board extended the applied skills portion of the exam from March 3 until March 21. That testing had been scheduled for March 3 through March 12.

State Senator Travis Holdman said Ritz’s position gives her the power to create a waiver system.  “It’s my understanding is she has the authority as the State Superintendent to grant any waivers she wishes,” he said.

Holdman said his wife is a teacher, and added that he thought it would be better to see the school year end sooner, if possible.

“I think you get to a point of diminishing return where the kids are attentive,” Holdman, a Republican from Markle, said.  “I know there has to be a last day at some point, but I think it becomes more difficult as you move into the summer.”

Many educators had expressed concerns about having enough time to prepare students for the exams, which are administered annually to third- through eighth-graders and cover English, math, science and social studies.

Ritz said school districts have asked for the flexibility to increase classroom time without adding full days to the school calendar in preparation for the ISTEP tests.

“We think it is an option that locals have not had before,” she said. “We are excited about that.”

Parents had mixed views on Ritz’s plan.

“I think they should just extend the school year into June,” Roosevelt Norfleet, a parent of children in Fort Wayne Community Schools, said.  “Saturdays, kids shut down.  It’s  their weekend.  A lot of people have schedules to keep on Saturdays.  You’re doing a lot of things with the kids away from the house and away from school.”

Shelia Lockwood has two children enrolled in DeKalb Central Schools.  “I don’t think Saturdays are a good idea for any child that’s an athlete because it conflicts with schedules,” she said.  “Later in the day conflicts with parents work schedules, and other activities kids are in.  So for me, personally, I rather go later in the summer.”

A former teacher said it would be better to get the school year over with sooner, rather than later.

“I rather seem them make it up now,” Janet Torson, who taught for nearly 38 years, said.  “These kids need summer vacation.  They have family plans.  There are graduations.  And school starts in the middle of August.  So, we’re already talking about a very short summer.”

Michelle Hughes, who also has children enrolled in FWCS, said she’d like the year to end sooner, too.

“I’d like to see an hour added each day,” Hughes said.  “It might work out better that way for the parents who work.”

Having a longer schools day could mean overtime pay for some employees and a possible disruption of after-school activities, but that would be less trouble than the other makeup possibilities, Butts said.

“We think it is great to have different options for the communities to work through and decide,” he said. “When you are talking about what is best for the instruction of our students and in preparation for ISTEP — I think it is absolutely phenomenal.”

School officials from the four public school districts in Allen County released statements regarding the possibility of making up days with Saturday instruction or longer school days.

Fort Wayne Community Schools:  We are eager to review the alternatives that Supt. Ritz offers to ensure that we meet our obligations to instruct all children to high standards. Until those are reviewed, we plan to complete the school year June 11, barring any additional bad weather.

Southwest Allen County Schools: [We] heard about the options for make-up of school days [Friday] morning.  It appears as though these are thoughts from Superintendent Ritz without official action by the SBOE.  The reaction from SACS is we will wait and see what steps need to be taken to apply for such a waiver and to investigate the unintended outcomes (if any) of such a move.

East Allen County Schools: The EACS Board will discuss ways to make up the missed days.  This is obviously a concern for several districts around the State and EACS will discuss and consider every option.

Northwest Allen County Schools: There are questions that need to be answered in terms of the details of what would be accepted and not accepted by those in a position to approve or deny a waiver request.  It is something we would be open to considering, but no decision would be made from our end until we know the details of what the DOE deems acceptable and not acceptable.

Information from: The Indianapolis Star

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