Longer school year? Texas Education Agency issues guidance on calendar changes for 2020-21

No one knows when it will be safe for school buildings to reopen to students. But many districts already are considering significant changes, including an “intersessional calendar,” which would begin the fall semester earlier than normal and end the school year later, while building in time in the calendar for longer break periods, in case a resurgence of the coronavirus requires new school closures.

TEA has issued guidance on these potential changes, which could result in changes to employee contracts for the 2020-21 school year. TEA said something that resembles a year-round calendar would lessen the disruption from student learning loss, potential building closures and a predicted higher-than-normal student absenteeism if the coronavirus is a major health issue in the fall. TEA provided roadmaps for districts to expand the academic year through either an intersessional or a year-round school calendar.

The agency said these changes would provide more flexibility to address students’ academic needs due to the “COVID slide.” TEA also suggests that the change would allow for built-in remote learning and staggered in-person attendance. To adopt an intersessional calendar, a district would have to obtain an exemption to the state law that prevents schools from starting earlier than the fourth Monday in August. TEA notes that districts can exempt themselves from the start date by becoming Districts of Innovation.

If your district seeks DOI status, notify your local president and the TSTA Help Center because DOIs also can exempt themselves from many other state requirements important to educators and students. These include teacher certification, teacher contract rights, class-size limits, the minimum salary schedule, planning and preparation time and duty-free lunch, among others. These are important safeguards that should not be waived, and they can all be wiped out by a DOI. Also, the law requires the involvement of faculty and staff in planning DOI conversions, a requirement that many districts try to bypass.

Districts also may choose to move up the school start date using the year-round system. If they choose this option, they must obtain board approval for a new academic calendar and designation as a year-round system and notify TEA of the district’s intent.

TEA also has promoted the use of additional school days for elementary students via a new provision added to the Education Code by House Bill 3 passed last legislative session. The provision, effective Sept. 1, adds half-day formula funding to schools that add up to 30 instructional days beyond the requisite 180 days for grades preK-5. Earlier this year, TEA posted a webinar on the provision as part of its “HB3 in 30” series.

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