Board Approves Longer School Day

Board Approves Longer School Day

Arguing that extending the school day by 30 minutes will not provide any additional quality learning time and will only result in exhausted students, wreak havoc on family schedules, cost some students their after-school jobs and harm after-school programs such as remediation, athletics and clubs, a hand full of students asked the Fairfax County School Board last Thursday to designate June 23 the last day of school.

"I have come before you tonight to express my opinions on the proposal to extend the school day by 30 minutes to compensate for snow days. I urge you to not add minutes onto the day, for it would have significant consequences while yielding few positive results," said Elaine Filadelfo, a senior at Annandale High School. "It would be a profound disturbance to students' extracurricular programs and work schedules, detract from students' morale and motivation, and would not have the desired outcome of helping with scores on tests such as SOLs [Standards of Learning], AP [Advanced Placement] and IB [International Baccalaureate] exams."

Eight of the 12 School Board members did not agree, and voted to extend the school day by 30 minutes from April 21 through May 16. In addition, April 7, previously scheduled to be a teacher work day, will now be a regular school day. School Board members Kaye Kory (Mason), Isis Castro (Mount Vernon), Robert Frye (At Large) and Kathy Smith (Sully) favored extending the school year to June 23 to make up the missed time.

IN ALL, the Fairfax County Public Schools missed 10 days due to snow. The school system has requested the state Board of Education waive five days, as well as any more that may be accumulated at this point, and three make-up days were built into the school calendar automatically, leaving students two days to make up.

The additional 30 minutes must be divided up equally among content-area classes, however, schools have the flexibility to decide if it will be by adding four to seven minutes — depending on whether the school uses block scheduling or not — to each class. Schools can also decide to add the time to classes on a rotating basis, for example, adding the additional time to first period on Mondays, the second period on Tuesdays and so on.

Current start times will remain the same, the additional time will be tacked onto the end of the school day. Morning kindergarten classes will begin at the same time, but will run 15 minutes longer, with afternoon kindergarten classes beginning 15 minutes later and ending 30 minutes later than normal. The time change also applies to modified-calendar schools.

E-mails from students, parents and staff supporting changing the last day of school persuaded a handful of School Board members, among them Kory who made the motion to make June 23 the last day of school.

"We are a major driving force in the lives of people in our community and we have an obligation to stick to the advertised schedule," Kory said. Originally, the school calendar designated extra days tacked onto the end of the academic year as snow make-up days.

The Fairfax Education Association, the school system's largest teacher's organization, also threw its support behind extending the school year rather than the school day. The Fairfax County Council of PTAs, however, approved a resolution expressing support for all 10 missed days to be made up. While several School Board members said they too supported making up all the missed days, they said it was too late into the school year to logistically pull it off.

INSTEAD, School Board member Christian Braunlich (Lee) made a substitute motion, supporting extending the school day.

"I actually went out and asked teachers and educators in my district. Of the e-mail responses I received, 413 supported extending the day by 30 minutes and 344 supported the alternate proposal [which makes June 23 the last day of school]. The responses seemed to be across the board," Braunlich said. "What was different was those teachers of SOL, IB and AP courses. They said they wanted the additional time, however small that may be. I was further persuaded that at the high-school level, the time could be rotated."

Seeing that Braunlich’s motion had more support, chairman Isis Castro (Mount Vernon) asked Schools Superintendent Daniel Domenech if students who could prove they had employment obligations be allowed to leave school a half hour early. Domenech said he could not answer that question and would have to ask counsel. Braunlich suggested that Castro provide the names of employers who would fire students because they had to attend school to the press instead.

One parent at the meeting last Thursday asked the School Board to review its policy on make-up days and to make plans for multiple days in the future.

"On the 2002-03 calendar, June 23 through June 25 were potential make-up days. But June 23 is included in tonight's alternative proposal, not the superintendent's recommendation," said Warren Repole, a parent at Westbriar Elementary School. "Why schedule post-year make-up dates if you don't intend to use them?"

The School Board also decided to take another look at next year's schedule, which had already been approved, and to discuss the issue of make-up days at a future work session.