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Hawkins suggests alternative school calendars for K-12

by Angelica Relente, Herald Legislative Writer
| January 22, 2021 1:00 AM

OLYMPIA — A District 12 legislator wants to create alternative school calendars for K-12 institutions in Washington state to address the loss children have been experiencing over time.

“This bill is really about learning loss,” Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, said during a virtual legislative hearing Monday. “Learning loss not just as a result of this pandemic, but learning loss that occurs every year, even pre-pandemic.”

Hawkins, whose district includes northern Grant County, is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 5147, which would authorize the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to create two programs for school districts, according to the bill’s text.

One program would extend the number of instructional days from 180 to 210. The other program would stretch the existing 180 instructional days throughout an entire year.

Each program would have up to 50 school districts; 30 located west of the Cascade mountains and 20 east of the Cascades.

School districts must meet certain requirements to be eligible for the program, according to the bill’s text. School districts must have at least 500 students, and at least 50% of the students must qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

School districts would be selected on a first-come, first-served basis. OSPI would report to the legislators in the education committees on a future date in regard to the status and outcome of the program.

“I think this is really a time for us as legislators to think big and to think differently about our educational delivery system,” Hawkins said during the virtual legislative hearing.

Andy Harlow, interim superintendent of Wahluke School District, said in an interview with the Herald he was aware a bill like SB 5147 would be introduced sometime. He is a member of a cohort that is interested in the possibility of having an extended school year.

“At this point, I’m looking at every option that we have that might help kids with learning loss,” Harlow said. “Our fear is this learning loss is going to go so much deeper than just math and reading. It’s going to have other profound things.”

Harlow said he has been a big proponent of getting students back to school as quickly as possible, after the state closed all schools because of the pandemic. However, many layers need to be considered before that happens.

“It’s a hard position we’re in,” Harlow said. “We’ve got staff that are fearful of COVID, but we have kids sitting at home every day — they’ve had their complete social interaction ripped out.”

Hawkins said the number of school districts that can participate in each program can be reduced to a limited number if any fiscal restraints arise.

There are “adult issues” that need to be considered regarding this bill, Hawkins said. Legislators would need to work with parents, child care services and school districts to determine if the proposed alternative school calendars are doable.

“I think it’s worth exploring, and the current system is in need of a change,” Hawkins said during the virtual legislative hearing. “I think our students deserve us to be having a thoughtful debate and discussion about what we could do differently.”

Senators had not voted on SB 5147 as of Thursday.