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Snow Days and Hours Guidance Revisited, To Close or Not to Close (December 2019 School Leader Update)

As administrators you all know that there is no right way to cancel school – whether it’s a late start, early out, or school closing altogether you will not make everyone happy.  But now that school districts and accredited nonpublic schools have the option of choosing a school calendar based on days or based on hours hopefully this will provide you with more flexibility in making these difficult decisions.  Now that you have more flexibility it’s time to revisit our previous guidance to school districts and accredited nonpublic schools on SNOW DAYS/HOURS, make-up days/ hours, and releases for athletic tournaments.  Remember, that SNOW DAYS/HOURS and makeup days/hours are only necessary to get to the minimum amount of instructional time required under Iowa Code section 256.7(19) which is 180 days of instruction or 1080 hours of instruction.  If you have the minimum amount of days or hours you are not required to make up the time.  However, making up hours or days even if not needed is sound educational practice.

Question:  May E-learning days be used toward the 1080 hours or 180 day minimum due to inclement weather?

            Answer: No, this is not counted as instruction under Iowa Code. 281 IAC 12.1 (8) defines a day of school as a day during which the school or school district is in session and students are under the guidance and instruction of the instructional professional staff and an hour of school as an hour in which the school or school district is in session and students are under the guidance and instruction of the instructional professional staff.

Question: May a school district and accredited nonpublic school lengthen the school day to make up for days or hours missed as a result of inclement weather?

Answer: 

Days Calendar – No.  A school days consist of a minimum of 6 hours of instructional time for all grades 1 through 12.  Lengthening the day would not add to your days of school.

Hours Calendar - Yes.  A school district or an accredited nonpublic school may add hours or minutes of instruction onto the beginning of the day or the end of the day to make-up time. 

Question: May a school district or an accredited nonpublic school make up snow days or hours on weekends?

Answer: Yes.  Whether or not you are on a days based calendar or an hours based calendar Iowa Code section 279.10 does not designate what days of the week are official "school days".

Question: A school district or an accredited nonpublic school has parent-teacher conferences planned on a Tuesday and Thursday evening yet to come in the school's calendar. Staff and students will also go to the school on Friday of that same week. May the district or school count the hours spent on parent-teacher conference Tuesday and Thursday night as another day of student instruction on Saturday (a fifth consecutive day, Tuesday through Saturday) -- even though staff and students would not attend school on Saturday?

            Answer:

Days Calendar – Yes. Iowa Code section 256.7(19)(b) provides for this exception as long as the five consecutive days equals 30 hours of student instruction. Remember, parent-teacher conference time counts as student instruction.

Hours Calendar –NA.

Question: May a school district or accredited nonpublic school add parent-teacher conference time that was not in the original school calendar and count that time toward student instructional days or instructional hours.

            Answer: No, because those hours were not included in the schools approved calendar.

Question: May local school boards forgive snow make-up days or hours?

Answer: No, if the district/school is below the minimum of 180 days or 1080 hours. Yes, if the district/school is beyond the minimum without counting the days/hours missed. However, making up hours or days even if not needed is sound educational practice.

Question: May a school district or accredited nonpublic school get a waiver from the Department of Education to NOT make up snow days or hours.

            Answer: No.  The DE has no such authority.

Question: Must a school district or accredited nonpublic school make up days or hours when weather forces it to start late or let out early?

            Answer:

Days Calendar - No.  Iowa Code section 256.7(19) states that a full day of instruction may be recorded if “emergency health or safety factors require the late arrival or early dismissal of students on a specific day.”  However, a local school board could decide voluntarily to make up the time that is lost by late starts and early dismissals.  Making up these days – especially if a district or school has had more than a couple of them – is sound educational practice.

Hours Calendar - No.  Under the hours calendar a district is not required to make up hours as long as they meet the minimum of 1080 hours.  However, a local school board could decide voluntarily to make up the time that is lost by late starts and early dismissals.  Making up these hours – especially if a district or school has had more than a couple of them – is sound educational practice.

Question: If "early bird" students come to school on what becomes a "snow day" but no other students are bused to the school, may a day or hour of student instruction be counted?

Answer: No. 281 IAC 12.1(10) states that "A day or hour of attendance shall be a day or hour during which students were present and under the guidance and instruction of the instructional professional staff. In addition, all grade levels of the school or school district must be operated and available for attendance by all students.

Question: Does a school district or accredited nonpublic school have to run the buses to count the day as a day of student instruction or an hour as an hour of student instruction?

Answer:  Yes.  Not only do the buses have to run, but students also need to be "under the guidance and instruction of the instructional professional staff." All grade levels of the school or school district must be operated and available for attendance by all students. This implies that students must be in classes for some period of time prior to early release. See 281 IAC 12.1(10) and Iowa Code section 285.1(8). OAG #93-11-8.

Question: Do seniors have to make up "snow days"?

Answer:  This is a local decision. Iowa Code 279.10 states, "the school district or accredited nonpublic school may excuse a graduating senior who has met district or school requirements for graduation from attendance during the extended school calendar."  NOTE, however, that rule 281—IAC 12.1(7) requires that there be a board policy to excuse seniors from making up “snow days.” 

Question: If a school district or accredited nonpublic school closes due to health reasons (e.g., influenza contagion), does it follow the "snow days" rules?

            Answer:  

Days Calendar - Yes.  Full days that are missed must be made up if the district does not have 180 days of instruction.  If a school district or accredited nonpublic school has early dismissal or late start due to emergency health issues, the district may count the day as a full instructional day if on a days based calendar.  Remember also that if just a classroom or attendance center is closed for emergency health or safety reasons, while the remainder of the district is in operation, the day may be counted as a day of school

Hours Calendar - Yes.  Hours that are missed must be made up if the district does not have 1080 hours of instruction.  If a school district or accredited nonpublic school has early dismissal or late start due to emergency health issues, the district may count the hours of attendance if on an hours based calendar.  Remember also that if just a classroom or attendance center is closed for emergency health or safety reasons, while the remainder of the district is in operation, the hours may be counted as an hour of school.

Question: May a school district or accredited nonpublic school let out school for athletic tournaments and other competitions and still count the day as a day of student instruction or an hour as an hour of student instruction?

            Answer:

Days Calendar - Yes, but only if the district keeps each building open and available for attendance by all students, and students in all grade levels are "under the guidance and instruction of the instructional professional staff" as described in 281 IAC 12.1(8).  The answer is “no” if an attendance center or district is closed.

Hours Calendar - Yes, but only if the district keeps each building open and available for attendance by all students, and students in all grade levels are "under the guidance and instruction of the instructional professional staff" as described in 281 IAC 12.1(8).  The answer is “no” if an attendance center or district is closed.

Question: Can the Governor

forgive snow days?

Answer: Under Iowa law, the Governor doesn’t have the legal authority to forgive snow days. State law requires schools to hold class for a minimum of 1,080 hours or 180 school days per school year. 

Question: Do school districts need to have a public hearing before making changes to the school calendar in order to meet 1080 hours or 180 days in the event of snow days?

Answer: Iowa Code section 279.10 requires that a School District hold a public hearing on any proposed calendar prior to adopting it.  As such, a School District should also hold a public hearing on any proposed changes to the school calendar that are necessary to meet the minimum of 1080 hours or 180 days prior to its adoption.  The reason for this is that it allows parents an opportunity to comment on the proposed changes.  A public hearing should provide notice and an opportunity to be heard.  Districts may locally determine how to accomplish this.

Question: Do schools need to make-up preschool hours missed due to snow days? 

Answer: This is a local determination.  It is always good educational practice to make-up hours or days of instruction that are missed. 

Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on October 28, 2020 at 11:00pm.