Illinois removes 300-minute school day minimum, creates flexibility

Maggie Baumstark, staff reporter

The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation that revamped how Illinois public schools were funded, and as a result, took away the 300-minute instructional day minimum that previously existed, according to Dr. Mike Riggle, superintendent of District 225. This change that took place in fall of 2017, Riggle says, could now allow GBS to implement more late arrival days for students throughout the school year.

However, the Illinois General Assembly is currently working to reinstate the required minimum of a five hour of instructional day, Riggle says. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, the senator who proposed the bill, said the motivation was to curb any “unintended consequences” the flexibility could potentially bring about, according to an NPR Illinois article. But, Riggle is not in favor of the reinstatement of the minimum.

“What you’ll find is the school districts in the area are largely against putting back the 300 minutes,” Riggle said.

The legislation, called “The Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act,” changed school funding from attendance-based to enrollment-based, Jackie Matthews, director of media and external communications for the Illinois State Board of Education says. This change gave individual schools the right to define for themselves what constitutes a school day, allowing for flexibility of schedules and diversity of learning, Riggle says.

“I think it’s one of the best rule changes that’s come in a long, long time,” Riggle said. “It allows people to be creative and to think about what they value the most and what education should be for students.”

Riggle adds that the requirement was cumbersome in terms of time off of school for students. For example, in order for students to have a late arrival, which would remove 120 minutes from the school day, two days need to be added to the calendar to fulfill the requirement, Riggle says. Or, in a case where school needs to be closed due to safety precautions, Riggle was forced to make a decision between student safety or fulfilling the requirement.

“I should be more concerned about your safety than I should be meeting the standard of having you in school for 300 minutes. That type of decision-making we shouldn’t have to do,” Riggle said. “When you have 300 minutes as a standard, that’s what it requires us to do.”

Even with the passing of the legislation that took away the requirements originally, South was unlikely to severely alter the structure of the school day, Matthew Whipple, president of the Glenbrook Education Association says. He says that although the flexibility is a benefit, the only change in the structure of the day South considered was the frequency of late arrivals.

“We had talked about it in negotiations last year, whether we wanted to actively lobby for more [late arrivals],” Whipple said. “But, we never got to that- it’s not a contractual requirement.”

Matthews says that the Illinois State Board of Education is actively working to maintain the flexibility the law currently provides due to immense positive feedback from superintendents across the area. Riggle, being one of the superintendents in favor of the newfound flexibility, thinks the elimination of the 300-minute minimum was a critical step for Illinois schools.

“The 300-minute rule was constantly something that you had to find a way to work with,” Riggle said. “With [the flexibility] we can shape the school day the way we should envision it for [students’] learning.”