Not enough classroom hours to meet state standards led Hays CISD officials to add a weather make-up day on Feb. 19.
But many parents and students are crying out, with some citing the district’s plan to bank minutes to avoid such emergency measures.
According to a letter sent to parents, students and educators, Hays CISD is out of “banked instructional minutes for the year,” which places the district under Texas’ minimum time requirement.
The district fell below the minimum after closing three full days during the year due to weather, along with having a two-hour delay on Jan. 17. According to the letter, the district will be back on the “positive side of the equation” with the make-up day and will require no other changes.
The district bases its equation on the number of minutes students are in school during the year. In 2016, the district chose to increase the school day by 20 minutes at all campuses to accommodate 2015 House Bill 2610, which required school districts to offer a minimum of 75,600 minutes of instructional time. Previously, school districts were required to offer a minimum of 175 days of instruction.
Savoy said switching to minutes gives districts flexibility when planning its instructional calendars.
When the district set the academic calendar for the 2017 and 2018 school year, Hays CISD built in a stockpile of 1,400 minutes extra minutes for elementary schools, 3,525 for middle and 1,395 minutes for high schools. Those minutes were meant to address bad weather days.
Prior to the Jan. 16 closure due to weather, Eric Wright, Hays CISD’s new superintendent, was concerned about having “quality instructional time” for educators and students, Savoy said.
After Jan. 16 and the two-hour delay on Jan. 17, the district used all of its banked minutes, triggering the makeup day.
Adding small increments of time to make up for the deficiency wasn’t an option, Savoy said. Doing so could put the district in a further bind if there was a future bad weather situation.
“There is never a good time to make up for bad weather,” Savoy said.
Hays CISD is now exploring ways to try to avoid a similar situation from taking place. Starting Feb. 1, Hays CISD will begin the process of planning for its 2019 academic calendar, which will include feedback from the community.
Some of the potential options could be to include dedicated weather makeup days, while also having a limited stockpile of banked minutes. That option could mean the district could “relax” on school start and end times, primarily at the middle school level.
Savoy said Hays CISD middle schoolers have one of the longest school days in the state.
Hays CISD is also exploring the concept of becoming a District of Innovation, which would allow the district to start earlier than the fourth week of August, which is the state’s mandated start date.
Savoy said Hays CISD officials would approach the community regarding the DOI designation in the fall. As a result, the district will only plan for the 2019 calendar, but wait until a decision is made on the DOI for 2020. Normally, the district plans academic calendars on a two-year basis.
To become a DOI, district must first meet the standard on Texas Education Agency’s academic accountability rating. Districts then must create an Innovation Plan that creates a comprehensive program that can include several factors. One of those includes modifications to the school year, along with innovative curriculum.
Roughly 600 districts in Texas are DOI, including Dripping Springs ISD. Districts would then have to hold public hearings on the plan, hold community discussions and then have its board of trustees approve it.
Should Hays CISD become a DOI and pursue modificatons to the school year, the district could request relief from the late start date. Savoy said starting earlier could mean flexibility for the district to balance semesters.
“One of the main benefits for starting earlier is balancing your semester around the holiday break,” Savoy said.
Hays CISD plans to have a draft of its 2019 calendar by the start of February.