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Could bill have saved snow days?

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
February 27, 2008
— Kids in Rock County will have to make up the schooldays they lost to the big snowstorm of Feb. 6-7.

In Janesville, makeup days are likely to be on Saturdays.


It didn’t have to be this way.


The reason kids have to make up the snow days is because of a state law that says schools must be in session 180 days each school year.


Schools that don’t build enough snow days into their schedules have to find ways to make them up.


Two years ago, the state Legislature considered a bill that would have removed the 180-day rule. The Janesville School Board backed the bill. So did Whitewater school officials.


Both houses of the Legislature passed it. Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed it.


The bill would have left untouched another law requiring certain numbers of hours of face-to-face contact between teachers and students each year.


“Many districts more than exceed the face-to-face teaching hours now, and research has shown that the impact on (a student’s) progress is face-to-face teaching time. It has nothing to do with getting them to the building and then sending them home,” said Debi Towns, the former state legislator from Rock County who authored the bill.


If Doyle had signed Towns’ bill, school districts would have been able to add a few minutes to a whole lot of schooldays to make up for the snow days.


Instead, they’ll now have to extend the school year or cut into weekends or spring break.


The bill would have given districts the flexibility in their schedules to adapt to weather closings or other local emergencies, such as a boiler going out, said Towns, a former school official and former Edgerton School Board member.


The 180-day requirement does not define what a school day is. The result is that if kids come to school at 8 a.m. and then are sent home at 9:30 because of an incoming storm, that’s considered a day of school, she said.


“It’s a meaningless statute, and it creates a hardship,” Towns said. “… My point is that it ought to be a local decision.”


Towns, by the way, is a Republican running to regain her former seat in the Assembly’s 43rd Assembly District.


Democrat Kim Hixson of Whitewater now holds that seat.


The election is in November.



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