UPDATE: School Start Date Rules Won’t Change in Iowa

UPDATE as of Thursday, August 1, 2013: The Iowa Board of Education voted down a proposed rule that would create stricter policies for start dates in school districts across the state.

State law states that students shouldn’t start school until the week that includes September 1st, but every year a majority of school districts get out of it by requesting waivers. The proposed rule would tighten up the reasons for waivers to be approved, requiring school districts to cite financial or academic hardships.

Before today’s vote, the Board held a public hearing on the topic.

The debate was fueled by Iowa’s tourism industry, which argues that earlier start dates affect things like the Iowa State Fair and summer jobs. Brian Johnson, a Lobbyist for the Iowa State Fair, says school districts need to follow the law.

“There is no process,” says Johnson. “We say the process is working. There has never been a process. We don’t know who, why, what, where the decision was made not to follow the state law. We respectfully ask you to follow the state law and the rules that exists in the state of Iowa.”

Others say it should be up to each individual school district to decide when their school year should start.

“As higher expectations are being placed on Iowa schools in regards to curriculum and student achievement, school districts need the flexibility to set their school calendars to best fit their local community and ensure that students are in school,” says Dan Wooden, President of the Ames School Board.

Even those the proposed rule was voted down, changes could still happen, but they would need to come from Iowa’s Legislature. No word yet if lawmakers will take up the issue.

EARLIER STORY from Wednesday, July 31, 2013: The start of your student’s school year could be different next year.

On Thursday, the Iowa Board of Education will discuss if the school calendar starts too soon in some school districts.

Under state statute, students aren’t supposed to go back to school until the week that includes September 1st. However, every year a majority of school districts (341 out of 348 in the 2012-13 school year ) request waivers to start the year earlier. For example, both the Davenport Community School District and the Bettendorf Community School District are starting school the week of August 12th for the 2013-14 school year.

On Wednesday, July 31st, 2013, the Davenport Community School District held registration for the 2013-14 school year. News 8 visited Wood Intermediate School to see what parents think of a later start date versus what they experience now.

“I think it’s a little bit too early,” says Diana Butler. “It cuts out camps and vacations. A little later in August, it’s cooler. It’s just too early. It’s too early.”

“We need to have that time with them to have family vacations,” Melissa Staples agrees. “We want to have those nights by the fire, have those little camping trips and things like that.”

Wood Intermediate School Principal Sheri Simpson-Schultz has a different perspective. She says moving the beginning of the school year to mid-August has its advantages. For example, students who take first-semester finals can complete their tests before winter break.

“I remember the 90s and even when we started the week before, we were testing after Christmas break and that’s kind of what pushed it to two weeks before so we could get that semester done and just have a real nice closure.”

However, that reason alone may not be enough. The Board of Education will discuss and decide if there needs to be stricter policies — like citing academic or financial hardships — if school districts want to change their calendar.

If anything does change on the state level though, it won’t take effect until the 2014-15 school year.

On the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, the Moline School District begins school on August 14th and the Rock Island-Milan School District starts August 5th. In Illinois though, state school code mandates a minimum of 185 days in the proposed school calendar, but not a specific start date.

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