HARRISBURG (March 19)—In a joint letter to the state’s Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak, the Majority and Minority Chairmen of the Senate Education Committee objected to the department’s willingness to allow school districts to waive the 180-day requirement because of this winter’s heavy snowfall.

In the two-page letter, Sen. Jeff Piccola (R-15) and Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-19) stated their belief that “it is inappropriate for the Department to waive the 180-day requirement for school districts….” due to this winter’s snow closures, deeming it “inconsistent with the Department’s efforts to improve academic performance in Pennsylvania.”

The senators urged the department to reconsider the eight waivers they have already granted, and deny the remaining requests. In a public hearing held Wednesday, department representative Mike Walsh said that more than 40 of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts have requested a waiver of the 180-day instructional requirement. So far, the Department has granted the requests of eight school districts: Brownsville Area, Canon-McMillan, Cornell, Deer Lakes, East Allegheny, Elizabeth Forward, Penn Trafford and Philadelphia –the largest school district.

Dinniman and Piccola also announced that they plan to introduce legislation that would clarify and strengthen the school code’s requirement of a 180-day school year.

In their letter, the senators maintained that waivers should be granted in only the “most extreme circumstances,” which this winter’s snowstorms do not represent. They noted that school districts can and should add instructional days to their calendars by eliminating or shortening spring vacations and extending the school year in June to compensate for snow days.

“The decision to grant these waivers runs contrary to all of our efforts to improve academic performance and the quality of education in Pennsylvania. It is disappointing and needs to be reconsidered,” Dinniman said. “After all, most economically advanced nations have 200 days or more in their school year. I don’t see how we can compete with them, academically and economically, by continuing to shave days off the calendar.”

“It is crucial for state policymakers who emphasize the importance of education to walk the talk on this issue,” Dinniman added.

“The 180-day rule is a mandate, not an option, and it is there for a reason,” said Piccola. “We have made great strides in holding students and teachers accountable and raising the bar in education. Waiving the 180-day requirement is a step backward.”

“With many policymakers even calling for a longer school year, it is ill-advised to relax standards and undermine the academic rigor we are striving to attain.”

For more information, call Senator Dinniman’s office at 610-692-2112 or e-mail andy@pasenate.com

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» Click here to read the letter

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