|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 12, 2001
Further information: 217/782-4648
State Board to Consider Changes to School Waiver Law
The State Board of Education will consider staff recommendations for changes in the state’s six-year-old school waiver law at its January 17 and 18 meeting in Chicago. The waiver law allows school districts to seek waivers of rules and regulations, as well as modifications or waivers of school code requirements.
A staff report recommends that the Board seek changes in the waiver law and process in the following areas:
-- Staff found that statutes governing school calendars include a mosaic of provisions that are difficult to understand, implement and monitor, and that have the aggregate effect of allowing school districts to significantly vary the number of days that students are in school. In 1998-99, school districts, by using those statutory provisions, had calendars that ranged from 178 to 132 student attendance days, the report notes.
The report does not propose specific changes to calendar requirements, but suggests that the State Board work with members of the General Assembly who have indicated an interest in this topic. As a starting point for discussions with legislators and the education community, the report notes that a previous study committee made several recommendations, including requiring at least 174 full attendance days.
Holidays - Since the waiver process began, 61 % (546) of the districts in the state have asked for and received waivers to attend school on at least one of the legal holidays specified in the School Code. This report recommends that schools be authorized to hold classes on legal school holidays if students are instructed about the individual or event commemorated. The recommendation would not apply to July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day - holidays for which no waivers have ever been requested. The report also proposes that Good Friday be removed as a school holiday, noting that a federal court ruling in 1995 prohibited the state from recognizing it as such.
The report also recommends that criteria be changed for waivers of School Code mandates. Presently those waivers can only be granted to improve student performance or to stimulate innovation. Modifications of School Code mandates can be granted for those reasons and also “if the intent of the mandate can be accomplished in a more effective, efficient or economical manner.” The staff report proposes the addition of this language to waivers of School Code mandates.
Dates of submission for the Cumulative Waiver Report and the Spring Waiver Report should also be changed, according to the report. Recommendations submitted in previous Cumulative Waiver Reports have not been pursued by the General Assembly and part of the reason is the timing. The report is now required near the start of the spring legislative session and the staff recommends the due date be changed to November 1. March 1 should be the due date for the Spring Waiver Report, staff suggests, to ensure that it arrives in time for legislative consideration prior to the earlier planned adjournments.
The recommendations are included in the State Board’s 2001 Cumulative Waiver Report, to be submitted to the General Assembly on or before February 1. The report shows that a total of 1,696 waivers or modifications have been approved since the waiver law was enacted. The State Board has approved 1,065 waivers of rules and regulations or modifications of the School Code; the General Assembly has approved 631 waivers of School Code mandates.
A draft copy of the report is available in Board meeting materials on the State Board’s website (www.isbe.net) under “Calendars and Meetings” for the “January Board Meeting.”