OTTUMWA — The question, on the surface, is pretty simple: When should Iowa school districts be allowed to start classes?
In reality, it's more complex. How long students must be in class helps define when school starts, both in terms of getting out in time to allow for a decent summer break and getting back before everything is forgotten. And when class starts helps define when it ends.
A new proposal before the Iowa State Board of Education would allow districts to define the academic year as either 180 days of classroom instruction or as 1,080 hours. But other details, including the process for establishing the start of the school year, are causing concern.
The proposed rules would require schools to start no earlier than the week that includes Sept. 1. Two waiver processes would be available for districts that want to start earlier. For those who want to start up to seven days earlier, the process is expedited. More than that, and the district would be required to provide evidence that includes specific evidence of harm to the educational process.
Cardinal Superintendent Joel Pedersen is not prepared to dismiss the proposal, but neither is he ready to embrace it.
“I just really need more time to process it,” he said.
Pedersen's preference is for local control. He doesn't see how students gain from having a one-size-fits-all decision made by people who aren't part of the local districts that must adjust. But he's sympathetic to the idea that there need to be some guidelines in place.
For Cardinal, the start time is usually tied to the state fair. The district usually starts midweek during the week after the fair wraps up. This year, the fair ends August 18 and the district begins classes two days later.
That's right at the edge of when the new proposal would allow districts to start classes. Cardinal would need a seven-day waiver for it, which it has sought in the past, but not the longer waiver with the more stringent requirements.