RI schools would be able to scrap 180-day mandate

The Rhode Island Senate has passed a bill to allow school districts more flexibility to scrap the state's mandate of 180 school days.

The bill would allow for fewer school days, but students would still spend the same amount of time in the classroom.

"We want to make sure there's still quality education for our students here and that all the requirements are being met," state Sen. Roger Picard said. "We don't want to change that, maybe just the delivery system."

It's why Picard, a Democrat, helped pass a bill to do away with Rhode Island's 180 school day requirement. He knows a thing or two about education as a special education services coordinator for the Woonsocket school district.

"Some of the students I deal with, they just don't do well in a traditional educational setting," Picard said.

He's hoping the bill will allow schools flexibility so teaching methods reflect the needs of students, who would still be required to have at least 1,080 hours of instruction.

Picard said he thinks the bill has the potential to save schools money on utilities and busing expenses if school was held four days a week instead of five. Other states, including Montana, Georgia and Colorado, saw some success.

State education commissioner Deborah Gist said she's in favor of the proposal.

"We're supportive of the concept," Gist said. "I feel really pleased that the bill says that they need to have approval for their design."

As for the negatives, Picard said he thinks they're mostly logistical.

"Union issues, obviously, staffing issues, busing issues," Picard said. "People who are accustomed to a certain educational year."

Picard said he hopes the legislation is a step closer to building more flexible, sustainable schools.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare.