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:

  • School Calendar and School Holidays

Calendar -- 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.

  • Physical Education

Physical education is the only fundamental learning area in which state law requires a specific schedule (daily), and it is the second most requested category of waivers. Since the waiver law was enacted, 310 physical education waivers have been approved. A House Education Subcommittee chaired by Rep. William Delgado concluded that something should be done to address the issue of physical education waivers. These recommendations reflect some of the issues raised in testimony before that Subcommittee and will be presented to Chairman Delgado after Board action.

The report proposes that the State Board support legislation to:

Ø Allow school districts to provide physical education on less than a daily basis if the amount of time students participate in physical education is substantially similar to what they would get in a daily program. This would accommodate districts with block schedules, which account for about one-third of districts with waivers.

Ø Extend the interscholastic athletics exemption to students in grades nine and ten. Currently, students in interscholastic athletics may be exempted from physical education in grades 11 and 12. This would make this exemption match those for marching band and ROTC participants, who now can be exempted from physical education in grades 9 - 12.

Ø Emphasize the importance of meeting the Illinois Learning Standards for Physical Development and Health by requiring that districts requesting waivers demonstrate how students will meet the Learning Standards if physical education is not provided daily.

Ø Limit Physical Education waivers to two years. Some requests for physical education waivers are for addressing short-term scheduling or facilities problems. The two-year limitation would encourage districts to strengthen their physical education programs by addressing those deficiencies in a reasonable amount of time.

  • Substitute Teacher Service Limitations

A total of 30 waivers have been granted to extend the 90-day limitation on the use of substitute teachers and 11 more are pending action by the General Assembly. Districts are finding it increasingly difficult to find competent substitute teachers, both because of short supply and stiff competition among districts.

Legislation was introduced last year to extend for three years the maximum time that substitutes can be used in a school district to 120 school days. That bill did not pass, but the report suggests the bill has merit for being a partial solution to the problem of finding enough substitute teachers. The Board should continue to support its passage, the report says, by analyzing the impact the bill would have, particularly regarding the continued need for waivers if it is enacted, and by working with the education community to get agreement on specific changes. The report also urges the Board to direct staff to work with other entities, including the Teachers’ Retirement System, to identify other strategies for addressing the substitute teacher issue.

  • Non-resident Tuition

Seven districts have been granted waivers to reduce tuition for non-resident students. To avoid potential abuses, State Board staff now ask districts to support non-resident tuition waiver requests with signed agreements from neighboring districts or to establish intergovernmental agreements to ensure that neighboring districts do not oppose the waivers. Without such agreements, the State Board has recommended that the General Assembly reject non-resident tuition waivers. The report recommends that the requirement for those agreements from neighboring districts be added to the law.

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.”