LEARNS Act Raises Questions Surrounding Inclement Weather Days

LEARNS Act Raises Questions Surrounding Inclement Weather Days

School district negotiates solution with ADE

After a week of fluctuating forecasts, snow began falling in the early afternoon Sunday, Jan. 14, and a second round of flurries the following morning left central Arkansas under approximately three inches of snow. School was out Monday Jan. 15 in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but temperatures remaining below or only slightly above freezing kept snow on the roads and LRSD students out of school for the remainder of the week. Threats of freezing rain on Monday, Jan. 22 marked the fifth consecutive school day canceled for inclement weather. 

Before students returned, there were already conversions between the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) and district officials concerning how the five days or 30 hours of school instruction would be made up. 

In recent years, the standard procedure for inclement weather days was for teachers to assign class work on Schoology and/or host online video meetings. These days were classified Alternative Methods of Instruction or AMI days, which counted toward the 178 days or 1,068 hours of student instruction required by Arkansas law. The LEARNS Act, however, removed the AMI days’ status as a substitute for in-person school days. AMI days are not banned, but school districts no longer have an incentive to use them because they cannot serve as a substitute for in-person learning.

“A public-school district shall be open for on-site, in-person instruction for at least: One hundred seventy-eight (178) days; or One thousand sixty-eight (1,068) hours,” according to the new law. 

Should the mandatory minimum of instructional time not be met, districts will not receive the state funding that boosts teacher minimum salary by $14,000. According to a memo Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva sent to all superintendents in the state Jan. 19, current Arkansas law leaves school districts in the state with three options for making up time lost:

  1. Add days to the end of the school year as had been previously approved.
  2. Changing the scheduled teacher professional development and parent teacher conference days to in-person school days.
  3. Adjusting the bell schedule for the remaining school days to meet the 1,068 hour minimum.

Superintendent Dr. Jermall Wright made several inquiries regarding Oliva’s memo: the first of which asked what counts as instructional minutes. ADE answered only time when students are in classes qualifies, not passing time between classes nor the 30 minutes allotted for lunch. 

The school district followed up with a second inquiry asking whether fifteen minutes added to the school day at the beginning of the current school year could be counted towards the 1,068 hour requirement despite not having an ADE approved alternative calendar waiver, to which the ADE replied no. It acknowledged, however, that that additional time can be counted once an alternative calendar is in place. LRSD asked the department for a reconsideration of their second inquiry. 

After the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported school closures on April 8 for the solar eclipse, it remains unclear whether an additional day will have to be made up via one of the methods listed above. 

In a Jan. 15 email, Wright announced that he will work with the Personnel Policy Committee as well as the LRSD Board to determine a course of action, but will “vigorously explore” any option that avoids adding days to the end of the year.

This is an ongoing story; updates will follow. 


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