In Some Texas Districts, School Days Are Getting A Bit Longer, Thanks To New State Law

North Texas school districts have new calendar options, courtesy of the Texas Legislature. Some schools are lengthening days to make up for possible bad weather cancellations. Others are waiting and watching.

By Bill ZeebleJanuary 12, 2016 10:06 am, , ,

This story originally appeared on KERA News.

In the old days – we’re talking less than a year ago – Texas schools needed 180 days a year to be legal.

Not anymore.

The Texas Education Agency now requires 75,600 minutes a year. It’s not the state’s version of “new math.”

“The main purpose was to provide school districts with more flexibility for making up missed instructional days,” says DeEtta Culbertson, a spokesperson with Texas Education Agency. She says bad weather in recent years forced a lot of North Texas schools to close more than their allotted two days a year.

“This type of flexibility will really be beneficial to the districts and even with the Texas Gulf Coast where we see unfortunately hurricanes every couple of years,” Culbertson says.

By breaking down instruction time to minutes, districts can add a few minutes here, a few there, says Leslie Johnston, a spokesperson with the Arlington schools.

“We’ve added nine additional minutes for elementary and junior high students this spring semester, in order to take advantage of that and not have to use our weather make-up days,” Johnston says. “High schools already had 10 additional minutes built into their school day. So then if we do not have any bad weather this semester they’ll actually get out of school two days early at the end of school year.”

That’s a plan Garland’s thinking about for the next school year, and that district may consider adding 15 minutes each school day. As for this year, there are no changes.

Despite the destructive tornadoes that hit Garland and other North Texas suburbs last month, Garland didn’t have to cancel any school days because of them.

Some districts, like Highland Park, don’t plan on any changes.

“Our approach is that students still need those instructional days rather than trying to and tack on an additional few minutes each day so as to have fewer days,” says Jon Dahlander, Highland Park’s director of communications.

“We think that’s what’s right and what’s best for our students and because of that we’ll be recommending a school calendar to our board later this month that has the same number of instructional days next year as we have this year,” Dahlander says.

Fort Worth ISD said it’s taking no action either. Same with Dallas, says spokesperson Andre Riley. The district’s plate is full now implementing new policies under a new superintendent.

“We didn’t want to become too aggressive and make too many changes based on the hours alone,” Riley says. “And then as we get more clarification from TEA, we’ll look to make other changes. But for right now we’re playing it pretty conservatively.”

Riley says there’s another reason for sitting tight. If the district miscalculates and falls short of scheduling all the required minutes, it can be fined by the state.

“That’s a very big risk, a district of our size, with the type of budget that we have,” Riley says. “It’s more advantageous to be conservative this year, get a great understanding of the rules.”

And then next year, Riley says, the district might look at tweaking its schedule or trying a more aggressive calendar.