February 14, 2014

Editorial | Don’t steal students’ class time because of snow

The following editorial appeared Tuesday in The (Columbia) State:

The following editorial appeared Tuesday in The (Columbia) State:

Senate President Pro Tem John Courson says he “cannot imagine anyone in the South Carolina Senate being opposed to” legislation the House passed last week forgiving up to five snow days this year.

With all due respect to Mr. Courson, we can’t imagine the chairman of the Senate Education Committee – that’s his other job – not opposing legislation that reduces the amount of teaching time students receive by nearly 3 percent.

We don’t mean to pick on Mr. Courson – whom we suspect is accurately representing the will of the Senate. After all, the snow from last month’s stormlet had barely melted when the House voted unanimously to suspend its rules to rush the legislation through in a record-setting one week.

It’s the whole Legislature that has this one wrong.

And not just the Legislature. Some school boards are demanding it. And you can bet that parents would too – making up those days might interfere with their vacation plans, after all – if they didn’t take for granted that the Legislature would do this, as it always does. Which might be why schools are so profligate about cancelling classes.

In 2006, legislators looked like they finally were going to take their 180-school-day mandate seriously, passing a law that required districts to build at least three snow days into their calendars. But they also allowed themselves to “waive the requirements of making up missed days.” And that’s what county legislative delegations routinely do, not just after the districts use up all their make-up days but, as in this case, before they use even the first of them.

Granted, there’s nothing sacrosanct about a 180-day school year. What’s sacrosanct – what our state has a constitutional obligation to do – is providing students with the instruction they need to learn those things we have determined they need to learn each year.

You can build a curriculum that accomplishes that in 175 days, or even 170. But if you build a 180-day curriculum, and then shorten the year by five days, you need to do something to ensure that students still have the opportunity to learn what they need to learn – lengthening the school days or giving extended homework assignments or offering internet learning, for example. There are no such provisions in H.4576. Just the same old cheat-our-kids-out-of-their-education provisions that always define these measures.

Indeed, there is nothing about this legislation that suggests that anyone cares a tittle about educating our children. To the contrary, it seems to treat school as a chore, a punishment.

We expect that attitude from students. But our legislators – and the school board members and parents who are cheering them on – are supposed to be grown-ups. They’re supposed to see a good education as an opportunity, an entitlement, a right for students.

Consider the section of the legislation that says if a district waives a make-up day, home-school students who live in that district are free to skip a day as well. Which is to say that home-school students shouldn’t be forced to get their education if the students attending public schools are not.

We suspect that parents who home school their children will decline the offer.

We hope, with a bit less confidence, that school boards likewise will decline the offer.

Better still, the Senate should decline to make it.

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