Change in school calendar causes headaches for parents - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Change in school calendar causes headaches for parents

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A change in state law aimed at giving school districts more flexibility is creating headaches for some eastern Iowa parents.

Prior to the 2014-15 school year, all school districts had to measure their calendar by days, which Iowa code defined as containing at least 5.5 instructional hours. If a school started late or let out early for severe weather, for example, and didn't hit that 5.5-hour minimum, that day did not count toward the 180-day rule.

Starting this year, Iowa is allowing districts to measure the school calendar by the required minimum of 180 days or by a minimum 1,080 hours. The new law also added half an hour to the definition of a school day, which must now contain at least six hours of instructional time. The Iowa legislature approved this change during the 2013 session, and it went into effect this year.

Dubuque is one of the school districts now measuring the school year by hours.

In doing so, it added a one-hour late start every Friday for teacher development.

Some parents, including Dubuque mom Chris Fuerst, aren't happy about the change.

"I have to work, I'm a single parent and it's a hardship for me," Fuerst said.

Her 10-year-old son Noah normally takes the bus to Irving Elementary, but on Friday mornings, Fuerst will now have to pay extra and drop him off at Irving for before-school programming -- just so she can get to work on time.

"My son doesn't do well with changes," Fuerst explained. "He is on the autism spectrum, and just the whole change that, 'This day you're going to go on the bus, this day you're going to go to school and this day you're going to go to daycare somewhere else.' It's hard on him."

School calendar changes made at district headquarters have also put some extra pressure on area childcare centers.

Hills and Dales Childcare Center director Lis Ernst said the demand for Friday morning transportation is higher than she can accommodate.

"On Friday, we have more kiddos that need transportation," Ernst said. "We just have a limited amount, and so that's hard because sometimes we have to say, 'No, we can't serve you.' And that's hard for us, too, to turn down families that need the services."

That brings the story back around to Fuerst, whose son attends Hills and Dales.

"There's more of a demand for the van, so therefore there's no spots open for my son," Fuerst said.

She has her fingers crossed this will all work out.

Dubuque used to have occasional late starts during the school year. Ernst said one benefit to having these new weekly late starts is kids will now be able to settle into a consistent routine.

The Dubuque Community Y and St. Mark Youth Enrichment both provide before- and after-school programming at the district's elementary schools. Both programs come with some costs.

Mary Dahlin is in charge of the Y's program and said she's seen an increase in registrations for just Friday mornings, as working parents try to find childcare for their kids on the weekly late-start day. Dahlin said there's no cap to the number of kids who can participate, so parents shouldn't worry about the program running out of spaces.

Dubuque's public and private schools share school buses, which poses a problem for Holy Family Catholic Schools, since they opted not to add a weekly late start. Holy Family Catholic Schools spokesperson Kathy Klauer said parents must find their own way to school on Friday mornings. The busing partnership continues as normal, however, on Friday afternoons.

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