THREE HEARTY cheers to the Richland District 1 school board, for refusing to cheat students out of the flooded-out class time they deserve.
Other school districts that had to close as a result of the largest rainfall in the state’s recorded history need to likewise provide their students with the 180 days of class time that state law promises them every year. And our legislators need to resist the temptation to override the Richland 1 board’s responsible, and unanimous, decision to require students to make up all seven days that they missed when the floods forced the schools to close earlier this month.
Richland 1 approves making up all days missed to flooding
The Richland 1 decision is all the more impressive because this is the first time school districts have had the authority to “forgive” missed days. In the past, they had to ask their local legislators to pass special laws doing this — and asking was about all they had to do, because legislators were more than happy to steal class time from students. In fact, it wasn’t unheard of for local legislators to pass a single-district law shortening the school year even after the school board already had scheduled the make-up days.
Under a new law that took effect in May, school boards have to use all three of their make-up days if three days of classes are canceled. After that, they can waive up to three days of missed classes, and then they can ask the State Board of Education for permission to waive an additional three days.
Locally, Lexington 3 and 4 plan to make up the two days they missed. But while Richland 2 plans to make up four days, it hasn’t decided about the fifth; Lexington-Richland District 5 hasn’t decided about the fourth or fifth day. And Lexington 1 and 2 still must decide what to do.
Lexington-Richland 5 will make up two flooding days, decide on other three
The new law is an improvement over the old law only if the school boards act as responsibly as Richland 1’s board did. And if it results in legislators keeping their hands off of their local districts’ calendars. Although the law no longer specifically authorizes legislators to waive school requirements in their local districts, it is the Legislature that writes the laws, so lawmakers will do that anyway if they feel like it.
Of course, even if legislators refrain from interfering, Richland 1’s decision to make up the lost days doesn’t guarantee that students will actually receive the 180 days of education that state law promises them. If we get a hint of snowfall this winter and schools are closed again, there will be demands that those days not be made up, because, well, it might be inconvenient for some parents. Or something.
Read the law
The adolescent disdain for having to make up missed school days — as if education were a chore instead of a sacred right — is so rampant at the State House that the law allowing districts to eliminate school days applies to home-school students as well. As if parents who care enough about their kids’ education to teach them at home are clamoring for the right to shortchange them every time the weather turns bad.
There’s nothing magical about a 180-day school year. We could pack everything students need to know into 170 days, perhaps with a bit more homework; or we could stretch it out to 200 days. Or more, or less. What’s important about 180 is that’s the number of days we’ve told teachers they have to teach everything that needs to be covered in a year. When we take away a day, we make it more difficult to teach all that information. And students are much poorer as a result.