As lawmakers got their first look Monday at a complete rework of the rules for operating public schools, a Sandpoint school trustee said the rules aren’t complete unless they make Idaho’s schools safe.
“We need to say very strongly, ‘This is what we think is safe,”’ said Willard Osmunson, a Sandpoint dentist and vice chairman of the Bonner County School Board.
Bonner schools have suffered serious damage from roofs collapsing under heavy snow.
But the rules revision, which winnows the state’s rules for schools from 1,500 pages to 378, sets no safety standards. Instead, specifications for school buildings would be dropped in favor of a statement that they should comply with current building codes.
The idea was to provide more local control, said Darrell Loosle, chief deputy state superintendent of schools.
“They still have to meet those (building code) standards, which are established by the state,” Loosle said. “Districts will have to follow these, but can go well beyond if they elect to.”
But Osmunson said Bonner County officials aren’t likely to adopt building codes stronger than the state’s.
Osmunson hopes to make a presentation to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education committees this morning, complete with graphic photos of the damage that occurred when the auditorium roof at Sandpoint High School collapsed.
The building met code, Osmunson said - but that wasn’t enough.
“If it had happened when kids were in that building, they would’ve been killed,” he said.
Osmunson’s comments came after the two legislative committees had just concluded a two-hour session to review the proposed new rules. The committees will hear from educators on the rule changes today, then will take public testimony Wednesday and Thursday.
Members of a task force that held hearings across the state to develop the changes said they hope to give local school districts more flexibility, while also providing a framework that leads to better-educated Idaho high school graduates.
The rules cover everything from graduation requirements to how schools should be accredited.
Carole McWilliam, president of the state Board of Education, said the “exiting standards” called for in the new rules, which will state what a student must know upon completing a particular course, will be particularly important.
“It is the essence of ‘What does a high school diploma mean?”’ she said.
Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, a longtime educator who served on the task force, said he passionately favors the rule changes. He discounted early criticisms from those who balked at dropping the state-mandated physical education requirement after eighth grade and other specific changes.
“If I had my preference of what classes to take, I’d load up on P.E. because I love P.E.,” he said in a booming voice.
Idaho’s high school students need preparation for the job market, vocational school or college, he said. The new rules, for the first time, recognize “applied” math and science courses - such as business math - for graduation. Such classes could be used to fill new, additional math and science requirements.
Keith Hinckley, a former Board of Education member who headed the task force, said some of the objections that have arisen to the new rules have concerned items that actually haven’t been changed. But now the rules are clear enough that people can read them and react to them.
“The old rule book was five or six times as thick,” said Darrington. “It’s clear, it is understandable.”
The Legislature in 1994 passed a law ordering that the state’s huge collection of rules for schools all expire (lawmakers call that a “sunset” law), forcing development of new rules.
If the Legislature does nothing, the new rules automatically take effect April 1. Or, lawmakers could make changes by passing bills eliminating individual rules from the package.
Hinckley said the re-examination of the rules was so valuable that he’d recommend doing the same for other state departments.
“I would recommend very seriously that the Legislature take one department a year and sunset all the rules, and start from scratch.”