Middle and high school students could end up with longer school days or teachers with less time to plan lessons because of a new state mandate.
Beginning next fall, secondary schools will be required to be in session a minimum of 1,080 hours, an increase of 80 hours.
That could mean cutting or reducing "early release" days or adding as much as 15 minutes to each school day.
No district has decided about how to provide the extra class time. But the options being considered raise their own issues and may not solve the perceived problems, say Tri-City school officials.
"It seems as if we're regressing to a seat-time model," said Richland School Board Chairman Rick Jansons at a recent meeting. "Putting a kid in a seat for 1,080 hours isn't necessarily quality education."
Currently, students in grades 7-12 are required to have a minimum of 1,000 hours of instruction, or an average of 5.5 hours a day spread over a 180-day school year.
State lawmakers increased the minimum hours during the 2009 special session, so that students would attend an average of six hours a day, as part of a broader set of reforms aimed at redefining the state's role to provide a "basic education."
Then in 2011, legislators delayed the requirement for more classroom hours after making budget cuts to K-12 education.
For now, the change won't affect elementary schools but officials said they expect the state to eventually increase the class time for younger students as well.
The Kennewick, Richland and Pasco districts have different numbers of early release days each school year. The students are released so that teachers can attend training sessions and meetings or prepare lesson plans.
They are a tempting way to add teaching time back into the school year because schedules would remain consistent and it would be easy for parents to plan for.
"We are looking at all aspects but that's the only option that's apparent," Pasco Assistant Superintendent Glenda Cloud told the Herald.
Officials said teaching could suffer because early release days are the only large blocks of time when teachers and administrators can schedule professional development.
It also would cut into time for meetings, when teachers are brought up to date on changes to curriculum, standardized testing and teacher evaluations.
"We're already struggling to provide staff proper time for training and development," said Richland Superintendent Rick Schulte.
Lengthening the school day to get the required hours in would also take work and possibly money.
In Kennewick, guaranteeing 1,080 hours in class would require adding as much as 15 minutes to each day at the middle schools and about 10 minutes at the high schools.
That would require renegotiating teacher contracts, adjusting athletics and activity schedules and has the potential to disrupt some common academic traditions.
"It's a long-standing tradition that seniors get out (a week) early," said Kennewick Superintendent Dave Bond. He added that it also leaves a razor thin margin for weather delay.
Administrators and board members said they'll consider options over the coming weeks along with gathering more information.
Kennewick school board members agreed with a recommendation to poll the district's teachers with the cooperation of their union for their perspective and ideas.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald