To the Editor:
I share Bob Gordon's sincere support of extra-curricular activities, and as the Iowa Department of Education's ex-officio representative to our state's two high school athletic associations, I congratulate the squads from Spirit Lake and Estherville on their recent trip to the Girls State Basketball Tournament.
However, I take issue with Mr. Gordon's inaccurate suggestion that the Department applies waivers to state education rules inconsistently ("Iowa Dept. of Ed pays both sides of waiver issue," April 30).
The Department doesn't make the law, but we must enforce it. In this case, there is no waiver from the state requirement of 5.5 hours in a school day, so we have no authority to grant the type of request cited in Mr. Gordon's letter (however, our Department whole-heartedly supports legislation that would give school districts more control over their own schedules by changing the minimum instructional time required in a school year from 180 days to 1,080 hours).
Conversely, there is a waiver option for school districts to start classes earlier than the week of September 1, and the law says the Department must grant that waiver if the district claims that starting on time would have "significant negative impact" on education. Since the law doesn't define "significant negative impact," and a decision to deny that waiver likely wouldn't hold up in court, this agency has a long history of granting virtually every school start date waiver. Last summer, a bipartisan statewide task force recommended that the Iowa Legislature clarify that portion of the law. This would not be an issue if the Legislature did just that.
The bottom line is that the Department believes scheduling decisions are best left to local school districts, and we hope that Iowa lawmakers will take the steps necessary to make that happen. Until then, we must comply with the law.
Mike Cormack, Policy Liaison
Iowa Department of Education
Des Moines, IA