TEA stresses for districts to look at calendar options to address possible disruption from pandemic next school year

The Texas Education Agency recently offered some updates to school districts on options for changing their school calendars. The goal was to let districts examine these options with the idea that the Coronavirus pandemic might further disrupt school schedules and on-site instruction. However, the TEA presentation caused uproar in some online discussions among teachers who feared that options for extending the school year would mean more work for the same pay.

Nothing currently has been proposed that would force teachers to work more days than the standard 187-day contract without more pay. 

A TEA slide outlines some benefits of an intersessional calendar.

The options presented include an “intersessional calendar” that can extend traditional fall/winter/spring breaks, a year-round school model, and additional instructional days for grades PreK-5. (See the TEA slides here, or if unavailable a PDF here.)

The intersessional calendar could include a full six weeks, for instance, of breaks during the regular school year (instead of what often is four). Although TEA notes that some of this time could be used for supporting students in need of remediation or additional academic help. The result would be pushing the regular school year towards the end of June. Additional break time could also serve to make up for shutdowns related to the pandemic, or even bad weather events.

The year-round school model is controversial, and it has been used by some districts (although tried and abandoned by some) successfully—such as in Socorro ISD. Our Socorro AFT union there reports generally favorable opinions of it from teachers, students and parents. Some districts have used year-round instruction for specific campuses. The idea would be similar to intersessional with six weeks of breaks through the year and an extension into summer with an early start date in August. The upsides, of course, are limiting summer brain drain and allowing for students and teachers to have more frequent, meaningful breaks. The downsides are myriad, with disruption to parents’ routines of finding typical summer childcare, to loss of an extended break for long travel or educational programs, to making it more difficult for students to earn money and experience with summer jobs. (The Dallas Morning News editorial board favors the idea.)

The other option highlighted by TEA is an actual extension in the number of instructional days. House Bill 3 passed last session allowed for districts to opt in for additional days in grades PreK-5 with half-day funding from the state. The prevailing reasoning for this “incentive” for additional days was investing in more remediation and support for early-grade students, particularly an emphasis on improving third-grade reading scores. TEA’s new guidance is stressing that these days could be used in intersessional calendaring as well. Teachers who worked in these extended programs would have to be compensated accordingly.

Again, state law outlines a typical 187-day contract (although now expressed for instruction in minutes). These options aren’t about requiring more work for the same pay. That said, we will be vigilant in ensuring that the Legislature, the TEA, and the governor don’t try to do anything to change this protection.