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Bill would give local control to school scheduling decisions

A bill currently making its way through the Minnesota House of Representatives would allow decisions about flexible school year schedules to be made at the local level; a bill that would affect the approval process of the Lake Superior school dis...

A bill currently making its way through the Minnesota House of Representatives would allow decisions about flexible school year schedules to be made at the local level; a bill that would affect the approval process of the Lake Superior school district’s four-day week.
The bill was introduced to the House on Jan. 15 by Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, and was passed on to the House Education Innovation Policy Committee. It amends two Minnesota statutes in ways that would take the right to approve flexible school year schedules away from the Minnesota Department of Education commissioner and give it to local school boards.
 Currently, districts must apply for things like a four-day week and the state education commissioner grants permission. On Tuesday, the House committee heard testimony from Miller and representatives from five school districts operating under the four-day school week - including Lake Superior school district Superintendent Bill Crandall - on why they believe the decision should be a local one.
Miller said in his opening statement that the purpose of the bill isn’t meant to take away the power of the state but to empower school boards to decide the best way to educate their students.
“I do believe that the state, and therefore the Minnesota Department of Education, should determine what needs to be accomplished to achieve excellent education in a school year,” Miller said. “How to accomplish it should be left for those who best understand their students, their teachers and their community needs, the elected School Board.”
Miller went on to say that he believes that the state education department should be able to govern how much time children should spend in a classroom, but the school boards should have the authority on how those hours are set.
The four other districts at the meeting in support of the bill were MACCRAY, Ogilvie, Blackduck and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City school districts. Parents and students spoke at the hearing, including Blackduck High School sophomore Ellie Cleveland. She said the four-day week has given her more opportunities as a student.
“I’ve maintained an A average every year, while also participating in seven of the many activities that Blackduck has to offer,” Cleveland said. “The extra contact time with my teachers has allowed me to succeed in ways like no other school could.”
Cleveland was a fifth-grader when Blackduck went to a four-day school week schedule with Mondays off. She said having the extra day off has allowed her to have doctor appointments without missing school and have more time to complete assignments.
Crandall spoke on behalf of the unique situations faced by the district, which, with schools in Two Harbors and Silver Bay, covers a large area. It began the four-day week schedule with Fridays off in 2011.
“Lake Superior school district is larger than the state of Rhode Island; pretty close to two times its size,” Crandall said. “We have students that get on the bus just before 6 a.m. and get to school at 7:45 a.m. So they’re on the bus a total of 3½ hours a day.”
That extra day off, he said, gives that travel time back to students.
Crandall also spoke about how the three-day weekend helps nontraditional families spend more time together.
“Unfortunately today, there are a lot of separated families, and our district is no different than any other district,” he said. “So we have parents that live in other parts of the state or in other states.”
Others who spoke at the meeting said benefits of the four-day week include longer class times for more learning opportunities. Students can also use the extra day off to work, and schools save money.
A representative of the state education department said that it doesn’t comment on pending legislation.
The House committee tabled the bill to discuss the amendments further.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONLAKE COUNTY
Adelle Whitefoot is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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