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January 30, 2014

MARK HEINIG: Making up all those days out of school

Does extending calendar have effect?

Most Hoo-siers are getting tired of winter! If you listen to the chatter anyplace where people meet and backroom barristers hold court, it is clear we impatiently await the spring thaw. These self-proclaimed barristers usually criticize our government. They think our leaders are either doing the wrong things or failing to do the right things.

We shouldn’t discourage this banter; we should encourage it. Informal discussions among our citizens clarify issues, shape public opinion and help our leaders decide what to do. Self-government began with such discussions. Its origins extend back to the direct democracy of ancient Athens, and perhaps much farther than that. Anthropologists who study contemporary primitive societies observe that some make decisions by consensus. It seems likely similar societies in our distant past also made consensual decisions.

Recent editorials, interviews and news reports reveal conflicting opinions and little consensus about how public schools should respond to this unusually harsh winter. Should state Superintendent Glenda Ritz continue to grant waivers of the 180-day rule to schools requesting them? Should she have granted any in the first place? Is State Board of Education member Daniel Elsener right or wrong when he insists no waivers should have been granted? What should local school boards and superintendents do in bad weather?

I can offer no perfect solution to these problems, but I would like to present a few concerns based on my experience as an educator and the opinions that students, parents, local school board members and other stakeholders have shared with me in the past four decades.

My first concern is implementation. I agree we should expect bad weather and include extra days in the school year to compensate for missed days, but how many days? Frankly, it’s always a guessing game and a no-win situation for school boards and administrators.

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