New Texas law changes school year from 180 days to 75,600 minutes

Icy road conditions last year resulted in North Texas school districts using more bad weather days than planned.
Icy road conditions last year resulted in North Texas school districts using more bad weather days than planned. Star-Telegram archives

Texas students who are used to marking 100 days of school as a sign they are on the downward slope to summer might be more technically correct celebrating 42,000 minutes this year.

Because of a change in state law, the Texas Education Code no longer defines 180 days of instruction as an acceptable school year. Instead, the requirement has been changed to at least 75,600 minutes of instruction, with one day defined as 420 minutes.

“The rationale was to give districts more flexibility for making up missed instructional days,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. “This is a way for the district to not have to add additional days unless they want to.”

Typically, school districts incorporate two makeup days for inclement weather into their calendar. When those days are exhausted, or if bad weather comes after the days have passed, districts look at either extending the school year, taking away other student holidays or requesting a waiver from the state. In previous years, some parents have complained when students had to go to school on Good Friday or Memorial Day.

With the new law, a district could avoid adding days or requesting a waiver by instead tacking minutes onto the school day or extending half-days already in the schedule, Culbertson said. The new law, which was passed as House Bill 2610, counts recesses and other intermissions such as lunch as instructional time.

On Sept. 28, the Texas Education Agency put out a three-page document intended to help districts with questions about the law. It says districts will not be required to modify the information they submit to the state regarding attendance until the 2016-17 school year. However, districts are required to keep local records to prove that start and end times meet the minimum 75,600 minutes.

With the thought of snow days still months off, districts in North Texas are taking a slow approach to making changes to take advantage of the new law.

“We're reviewing the possibilities provided by HB2610, including extending the school day to makeup for weather days,” said Leslie Johnston, a spokeswoman for the Arlington district. One of Arlington’s two designated makeup days in the 2015-16 calendar falls on March 25, Good Friday.

“Adding two days at the end of the year can sometimes create challenges with the graduation schedule,” she added. “There are many implications that need to be considered, including pay for hourly employees, child care, adjusting bell schedules for impacted programs across the district and adjusting transportation schedules.”

Mansfield school Superintendent Jim Vaszauskas told trustees at their Sept. 22 meeting that administrators “may bring a couple of recommendations for changes to the spring semester, but they’ll be minimum.”

In a presentation on HB2610, he pointed out that most of the district’s schools already go longer than 75,600 minutes. He asked a district committee to look at how the new law might give Mansfield more flexibility in its master schedule for the 2016-17 school year.

“I think potentially this could be a very, very good thing for schools, but we just need to make sure that we have all the information that we need before we bring a calendar recommendation to you,” Vaszauskas told trustees.

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