Counties gain more control on school days

CHARLESTON – A new state policy gives county school systems in West Virginia more control over their school calendars but does not mandate year-round instruction, the Department of Education said.

The policy approved Wednesday by the West Virginia Board of Education allows counties to establish year-round school calendars “if the community thinks a balanced schedule is the most appropriate for its students,” the department said in a news release.

Board members and department officials voiced concerns during Wednesday’s meeting that the public has misunderstood some of the changes, media outlets reported.

Many of the 184 comments submitted during a 30-day public comment period on the policy oppose a year-round school calendar.

“The balanced calendar is a big issue for people out in the public and we’re hearing more buzz than we are comments. Lots of buzz,” said state board member Bill White. “… They think they’re losing flexibility when in fact they’re gaining flexibility. We have to somehow destroy some of these myths so that people understand we’re giving them more autonomy.”

The policy also does not eliminate school trips, another concern voiced in public comments.

The policy does require counties to hold two public hearings on their proposed annual school calendars. It also requires county school boards to develop a plan to make up for instructional time lost due to inclement weather, early dismissals and late arrivals.

Another change requires most faculty senates to meet on non-instructional days so that classes will not be canceled for professional development.

“The general opposition was just from a lack of understanding,” state Schools Superintendent Jim Phares said. “They believe that you’re requiring them to go to year-round school, and that’s not the case. They think it means the loss of professional development, summer breaks, extracurricular opportunities. There’s nothing in the language that eliminates the loss of this stuff.”

May 1 is the deadline for counties to submit school calendars to the Department of Education for the 2014-2015 year.

The changes stem from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s education reform bill that was passed by the Legislature earlier this year.