Thursday, April 30, 2020

State Reps call on State Dep't of Education to protect rural schools, revisit four-day school week limits

Conley calls on SDE to protect rural schools and revisit four-day school week rules

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle, is calling on the State Department of Education to cancel and resubmit its proposed rules on waivers from new school year calendar requirements limiting four-day school weeks that are favored by many rural districts.

Last year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 441, which requires school districts to use school years with a minimum of 165 days and at least 1,080 hours, beginning in the 2021-22 school year. The change essentially prevents four-day school weeks unless a waiver is obtained. Many rural districts are relying on the waiver to continue school weeks that work best for their communities.

The waiver rules required by SB 441 that were produced by the State Department of Education and Board of Education have not been finalized by the Legislature.

“In the current state of the Oklahoma economy, it is more important than ever before that we fully consider the consequences of requiring our rural districts to add days to their calendars,” Conley said. “The rules the State Department of Education proposed make it far too difficult to obtain a waiver from these requirements, contrary to the clear desire of legislators who worked hard to include a fair waiver process in this bill. While many of us still have concerns with this law, the law is the law, and this law called for a fair waiver process that the State Department of Education’s rules fail to provide.”

Discussions that were underway about the State Department of Education’s need to modify details in its proposed rules have been affected by the ongoing pandemic response.

Conley, a former teacher and school administrator, said the State Department of Education should resume discussions with legislators and local stakeholders about the rules when the pandemic passes.

“Without adequate discussion to get these rules right and fully approved, what was intended to be a flexible compromise could turn into a heavy-handed mandate for some of our most vulnerable school districts,” Conley said. “Legislators worked hard to protect local control in this legislation, and I urge the State Department of Education to respect that sentiment.”

Conley added: “The pandemic created further problems with implementing this law due to the cancellation of student assessments, gaps in attendance data, and other factors that were to be considered in the waivers. Given all these problems, I am requesting the State Department of Education to go back to the drawing board and have further discussions with stakeholders when the pandemic passes to refine these rules and resubmit them to the Legislature.”

Also joining in Conley’s request to SDE regarding SB 441 are State Reps. Trey Caldwell, R-Lawton; Denise Crosswhite Hader, R-Piedmont; Dean Davis, R-Broken Arrow; Tom Gann, R-Inola; Jim Grego, R-Wilburton; Ronny Johns, R-Ada; Lundy Kiger, R-Poteau; Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow; Jim Olsen, R-Roland; Logan Phillips, R-Mounds; Cynthia Roe, R-Lindsay; Judd Strom, R-Copan; Johnny Tadlock, R-Idabel; John Talley, R-Stillwater; and Tammy Townley R-Ardmore.

Sherrie Conley represents District 20 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes parts of Cleveland, Garvin, McClain and Pottawatomie counties.


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