Gilbert and Chandler high school students will spend more time in school starting this year as their school districts comply with state officials' new interpretation of the instructional time law.
The Gilbert Unified School District is adding 25 minutes more per day of instructional time because state officials say students should be enrolled in at least four classes a day.
This means that starting Aug. 6, Gilbert's first day of school, the high school "A" hour starts at 6:30 a.m., while first hour begins at 7:30 a.m. Seventh hour ends at 2:30 p.m.
Although district officials are complying, they are seeking an opinion from the Attorney General's Office to see if the Arizona Department of Education is interpreting the law correctly, said Clyde Dangerfield, Gilbert's assistant superintendent of business services.
"The district doesn't agree with the minimum requirement that even on early release days there should be at least four hours of instruction," Dangerfield said. "We believe as long as you've provided a minimum of 20 hours per week, you've met ... (the) requirement."
A letter was mailed to all high school families July 11 to inform them of the changes. All high schools will be on the same schedule, and although classes start 20 to 25 minutes earlier, depending on the school, the day is ending at the same time as last year, Dangerfield said.
Chandler Unified School District's four high schools also added time to the school day for the upcoming year, which begins July 28, to meet the interpretation of the state law.
Craig Gilbert, director of secondary education, said the days are lengthened about 15 minutes on either side of the morning and afternoon bells.
That means Chandler's high schools will start their day at 7:25 a.m. and end around 2:15 p.m. Exact school schedules are posted on school Web sites. "Zero hour" starts at 6:30 at several schools. Chandler High offers a seventh hour that ends at 4 p.m.
Like other districts, Chandler is also requiring students to be enrolled in at least four subjects to be full-time students, to meet the state law.
Every high school in the state is subject to the new interpretation, although depending on the current school schedule, some districts may not have to make any changes.
Students at Higley and Williams Field high schools in the Higley Unified School District will not be affected because their schedule already complies, said associate superintendent Denise Birdwell.
Scottsdale Unified School District officials said their schools also are not affected.
The only change at Queen Creek High School is for students involved in the alternative program, said principal Angela Chomokos. Those students will have to come to school on Fridays; in the past, they used Fridays as makeup days.
However, the Queen Creek district expects to change policy for the 2009-10 school year. The proposal is expected to have seniors take five classes a day, instead of four, Chomokos said.
"That's providing they are in line to graduate," she said.
The upcoming school year's Queen Creek High schedule was changed in March to start 10 minutes earlier, although it had nothing to do with the state's new interpretation. The start time change for all district schools was made to stagger pickup times for school buses, prompted by growth and the planned opening of Newell Barney Middle School in the fall.
The Tempe Union High School District won't be affected the state's new interpretation of the instructional time law because the district is already over the required minimum, said spokeswoman Linda Littell.
Last fall, the Mesa Unified School District acted on its own to expand the school day for its seniors, in an attempt to fight "senioritis."
Mesa officials worried that seniors who had nearly met their graduation requirements were taking off as early as 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., putting them at a disadvantage when they entered college or the work force after graduation.
So Mesa required seniors to attend at least four classes each day.
- Tribune writers Andrea Natekar and Michelle Reese contributed to this report.