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Proposed Law Would Cap Number Of Early Release, Late Start Days For Schools

A bill proposed by a senator out of Ferndale would limit the amount of early release and late start days school districts can use in a year.

Senate Bill 5982 has been introduced to the Washington State Legislature by Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) and has been referred to the Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education.

The proposed law aims to “preserve instructional time to all students in all grades,” according to the text of the bill, and would limit partial days, typically used for professional development for teachers and administrators, to no more than seven occurrences during the 180-day school year.

Students in Washington are required to receive a minimum annual average of 1,080 instructional hours per year in grades seven through 12 and a minimum of 1,000 instructional hours for grades first through sixth. Kindergarteners also have to be in class at least 1,000 hours every year, a jump from the minimum of 450 hours prior to a 2009 law that increased class times for students across the state.

Dr. Jerry Lewis, superintendent of the White Salmon Valley School District, said that though the annual average jumped from 1,000 hours to 1,080 under the 2009 law, the law isn’t technically in effect until the 2014-2015 school year. In order to be prepared, the White Salmon Valley School District not only took action by implementing the law early, but also upped the amount of instructional hours for seventh graders on up to high school seniors to 1,100 hours.

The proposal to transfer the issue of partial days from the hands of local school districts over to the state has been met with criticism from educators across the state, according to the Yakima Herald Republic.

The primary concern ties in with the pressure of new initiatives educators and administrators are facing this year. Lewis said staff members are already giving up some weekends to prepare for the new teacher and principal evaluation system because the early release and late start days the district currently uses are being taken up by preparing for the Common Core standards.

White Salmon Valley School District staff had their first weekend session to prepare for teacher and principal evaluation in January, according to Lewis. Though he had not read the specifics of the law, Lewis said capping the amount of days districts can dismiss early for professional development would definitely affect White Salmon schools.

“If they are going to limit us that’s going to have a big impact,” Lewis said.

If SB 5982 was already enacted this year, White Salmon Valley Schools would have hit its limit on early release days in October. Not counting the 12:05 p.m. releases scheduled for parent-teacher conferences, the White Salmon Valley School District has 24 early release days scheduled for professional development this school year.

So far the district has used 15 early release days for staff development, according to the district’s online calendar.

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