DES MOINES — The leader of the Iowa Department of Education has been getting a lot of calls and questions as the number of school days canceled by winter weather continues to mount.

Director Ryan Wise says making up the days depends on whether school districts set their yearly calendar based a set number of hours or a set number of days. “If schools have a days calendar — they have to have at least 180 school days of instruction,” Wise explains. “If they choose a calendar based on instructional hours — they need to have a thousand and 80 hours of instruction over the course of the year.”

School districts had to tack missed days onto the end of the school year or cut short spring break to make up missed days. The hour option was added with a change in state law 2014. Wise says it’s become the calendar of choice. “I believe about 95 percent of districts have an hours calendar and so, that allows them the flexibility to do creative things like add additional minutes on to the end of the day. So, they lengthen their school day for a set period of time for the remainder of the year,” Wise explains.

Schools that use the 180-day calendar need to have students in class for a minimum number of hours to qualify as a day. “Six hours of instruction meets the minimum requirement for a day of instruction toward the 180-days requirement,” according to Wise. “And schools are also allow to use parent-teacher conferences to count toward the days of instruction.”

The Department of Education doesn’t keep a running total of school days — but Wise says he’s heard it ranges from more than 10 to less than 10.  One of the questions he gets is if the Ed Department or the governor can waive the calendar requirement in years like this one. “There’s no power granted to the governor or the department or the director to waive that requirement, ” he says.

Each district makes its own decision on when the weather is too bad to hold classes. “It is absolutely one of the toughest decisions that our superintendents have to make,” Wise says, “and I don’t envy them at all in having to make that call.” He says the superintendents do a good job of making those decisions based on the what’s best for the safety of the students and school employees.

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