S.D. Senate fine-tunes law that lets education secretary waive school hours in emergencies

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — State senators unanimously approved adding flexibility Wednesday to a recent law that lets South Dakota K-12 schools change schedules in emergencies such as COVID-19.

The state Department of Education wants the legislation that now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

It would soften the 2020 law that allows the state secretary of education to decide whether to waive the minimum hours a school must provide instruction. The secretary has that power only during an emergency declared by the U.S. president or governor.

The legislation creating the waiver was introduced and passed by both chambers in a single day, March 30, the final day of the 2020 session. Representative Bob Glanzer of Huron had already died of COVID-19. The law will expire June 30, 2021, unless lawmakers decide differently.

On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee listened to Education Secretary Tiffany Sanderson explain why her department wants more flexibility.

South Dakota schools generally closed their doors last spring because of the pandemic and switched to remote classes for the rest of the semester.

Sanderson said many schools began holding in-person classes again in August. But some stayed with remote instruction, and some such as Sioux Falls are offering hybrids.

The waiver legislation last year was intended for when school buildings close, Sanderson said, but South Dakota’s varied experiences in the fall showed schools don’t necessarily need to be fully closed in order for waivers to be considered.

She said the department will work with schools this spring to learn how each one made it through the current school year.

“That report we’ll be sharing with the Legislature, we’ll be sharing with the Board of Education Standards and the governor’s office,” Sanderson said. 

Senator Jim Bolin called for the committee to recommend passage. “I think this is a reasonable bill,” the Canton Republican said. “I believe it is an appropriate adjustment to this piece of legislation.”

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