CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State school board members unanimously approved a policy Wednesday they say is intended to give districts more freedom when designing a school calendar, but they said they're worried there are still misconceptions among educators and parents about the bill's requirements.
More than 180 comments were made in a month when the board put the proposal up for public comment in October -- "virtually all of which disagreed with some aspect of the policy," according to an executive summary of the new bill.
The new version of Policy 3234 allows local school boards more flexibility to decide when students should attend school based on the district's individual needs, but it also holds them more accountable to provide at least 180 days of instruction and requires approval from the Department of Education.
County school boards are now required to hold at least two public hearings before voting on a school calendar, and must develop countywide policies that ensure all time lost due to late arrivals, early dismissals and inclement weather is recovered.
The revised state policy -- a result of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill -- also requires most faculty senates to meet during non-instructional days in order to prevent schools from canceling class for professional development.
None of the more than 180 comments inspired any change to the policy before it was approved at the board's monthly meeting on Wednesday. Still, that's because the majority of those comments were misconceptions about the policy's intent, state Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares said.
"The general opposition was just from a lack of understanding," Phares said. "They believe that you're requiring them to go to year-round school, and that's not the case. They think it means the loss of professional development, summer breaks, extracurricular opportunities. There's nothing in the language that eliminates the loss of this stuff."
While the policy allows local districts to choose when their students will attend school, it recommends the use of a "flexible calendar," suggesting that county boards may want to "seriously consider" adopting a school schedule that could reduce summer learning loss.