Bridge week? School Choice Wisconsin questions scheduling practice

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Recently we ran into a headline that piqued our interest here at School Choice Wisconsin: The four high schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District, the second-biggest district in the state, have enacted a concept called bridge week. Students who’ve earned Cs or higher were not required to come to school on June 7 or 8 as the schools planned to focus on kids who’ve logged Ds and Fs on those days, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The kids with higher grades were not to be marked absent.

Final exams, which would have been an end-of-year focus, were scrapped more than two years ago in the district, mostly because of pandemic shutdowns, says the State Journal.

School Choice Wisconsin reached out to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to see if choice schools can take advantage of the bridge week concept and to ask if such bridge weeks do not violate the 1,137 hours per school year the state requires for high schoolers—hours the DPI closely monitors for compliance, requiring choice schools to process headache-inducing paperwork so exacting it takes training to fill it out. The DPI is demanding concerning this paperwork for choice schools and does ask for redos and clarifications. Not meeting the hours requirement could result in the state expelling a school from the choice program.

The DPI had denied a request from the Madison district in April for a waiver on the minimum number of required hours, the paper reported.

In an emailed response to SCW, DPI spokesperson Chris Bucher cited Wisconsin Administrative Code’s “innovative instructional design.” The innovative instructional design allows school districts to design instructional programs aligned to school district standards and are typically used to improve student achievement through instruction offered outside of the normal school day, virtually or in an alternative setting, wrote Bucher. “This rule has been modified so that instructional hours may also include the hours of instructional programming offered through innovative instructional designs that apply to the entire school or grade level.”

Here is the language of the statute in question (PI 8.01(2)(f))Each school district board shall annually schedule and hold at least 437 hours of direct pupil instruction in kindergarten, at least 1,050 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 1 through 6, and at least 1,137 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 7 through 12. The school hours are computed as the period from the start to the close of the school’s daily instructional schedule. Scheduled hours under this subdivision include recess and time for pupils to transfer between classes but do not include the lunch period. No more than 30 minutes per day may be counted for recess. Scheduled hours may also include the hours of instructional programming offered through innovative instructional designs that apply to the entire school or grade level. In computing the minimum number of instructional hours under this subdivision, schools may not count days and parts of days on which parent and teacher conferences are held, staff development or inservice programs are held, schools are closed for inclement weather, and no compensatory instruction is offered virtually, and when no direct instruction is provided.

Bucher further explained when asked if the Madison program passed DPI muster: “According to administrative code, public school districts are required to schedule and hold at least 437 hours of direct pupil instruction in kindergarten, at least 1,050 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 1 through 6, and at least 1,137 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 7 through 12. To my knowledge, MMSD has met that requirement, and within that minimum hours requirement, there is an allowance for certain instructional models, such as innovative instructional design. As the language of the requirement reads, this does not apply to individual students for individual amounts of time.”

Tim LeMonds, Madison district spokesperson, told the State Journal that since the schools are providing instruction on those days, instructional minutes are counted towards DPI requirements. “Whether a student chooses to attend or not does not negate the fact that instruction was provided by the school/district. It follows the same logic as asynchronous lessons,” he wrote in an email, the paper said.

The DPI recommends districts consider consulting with their attorney before developing such a program to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and address any practical matters that may arise, wrote Bucher.

Choice schools across the state will be interested to know that a bridge week option is an apparent tool for them, as it got the go-ahead for the Madison district.

— School Choice Wisconsin

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