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Afternoon Poll: Should FCPS Elementary Students Have ‘Mini Mondays?’

by Karen Goff March 26, 2014 at 4:40 pm 5 Comments

FCPS school bus

A grassroots movement is underway to try and get Fairfax County Public Schools to reconsider half-day Mondays.

For more than 40 years, FCPS elementary students have been dismissed about 2 1/2 hours early on Mondays so teachers could have a weekly planning time.

That is shortchanging the kids, advocates for a uniform school day throughout the week say.

“The members of the Fairfax County School Board need to face the reality that they have an obligation to set a schedule that meets the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation,” Virginia Fitz Shea, head of the Full Schooldays group, writes on her blog Fullschooldays.org.

“This is not a luxury or an extra that they can avoid implementing on the grounds that it is too expensive.  As previously mentioned, Fairfax could adopt the same elementary schedule seen in many other school districts at no additional cost whatsoever.”

Full Schooldays has also organized a petition to gather signatures of support to send to the FCPS school board.

“The elementary school schedule is too short,” says the petition. “Fairfax prides itself on being a leader in American public education, but it is stuck in the past in clinging to such a short schedule for elementary schools. Students are sent home 2 ½ or 2 hours early every Monday. The students should be allowed to stay in school for at least 6 hours and 40 minutes every single day of the week.”

The group also says half-days compromise children’s safety as some are home alone for longer. It also places an unfair burden on families with kids in day care who must pay for extra supervision.

The school board has been discussing the issue, but does not see how it can change as it is looking at a $130 million budget gap.

“If FCPS wishes to change Mondays to a six and a half hour day, there would be about a seven percent increase in teacher salary costs,” Dranesville school board rep Jane Strauss said last June.

“If the Tuesday through Friday schedule were shortened and the time added back to Monday, there might not be any cost,” she added. “However, elementary teachers would not get the block of planning time. Many teachers would likely have great concern about this. They already have an increased work load and struggle to complete the required planning and analysis within the current time structure.”

 

  • Virginia Fitz Shea

    Jane Strauss is wrong to state that full-day Mondays would mean that
    ”there would be about a seven percent increase in teacher salary costs.”

    It’s true that 15 of the 16 elementary schools that had full-day Mondays under Project Excel starting in 1999 increased the teacher contract hours by 30 minutes per day and gave them a 7 percent additional salary stipend. These teachers, instructional assistants, counselors, and librarians increased their contract day from 7.5 hours
    to 8 hours. However, this approach had been criticized as too expensive by the Time and Learning Task Force in 1996. In recent years Project Excel was dropped because of the cost.

    There are several other ways of providing alternative planning time for elementary school teachers. Interim Deputy Superintendent Dan Parris is leading a working group studying improved schedules, including full-day Mondays. There is a possibility that the working group’s proposal will be cost-neutral.

    I don’t know what options the FCPS working group is currently studying. I do know that back in 1991 there was a proposal for full-day Mondays that would have a cost only $3.6 million for all schools. One of the costs included in this proposal was for 39 additional art teachers. Since that time, Fairfax went ahead and added more art teachers anyway. So it was really a bit misleading to include this cost as part of the cost of full-day Mondays. Having additional time for art instruction by specialists was a long-standing goal of the school board.

    It’s time for the Fairfax County School Board to decide how much time students need for math, language arts, science, social studies, physical education, health, music, art, lunch, recess, and other activities. Make sure teachers have equal or greater amounts of planning time compared to the present. The best way to solve this puzzle is to allow
    the students to have five full days a week in school. Then call that the cost of elementary education, not the cost of full-day Mondays.

    Also, the statement that “If the Tuesday through Friday schedule were shortened and the time added back to Monday, there might not be any cost,” is wrong. There would be increased cost for bus transportation if the elementary school day were significantly shortened compared to the middle school and high school day. Aside from the transportation costs, it is no longer possible to ignore the time devoted to recess when calculating the length of the school day. Currently Fairfax County elementary students are in school for 30 hours and 50 minutes each week, or an average of 6 hours and 10 minutes per day. According the the Virginia Standards of Accreditation, the standard school day for grades 1-12 shall average at least 5-1/2 instructional hours, excluding breaks for meals and recess, and a minimum of three hours for kindergarten.

    Since lunch is typically 30 minutes, Fairfax County elementary schools on paper have only 10 minutes per day for recess. This is absurd. It would be even more absurd to say that Fairfax could switch to a 6-hour day. That would leave no time at all for recess, and daily recess is one of the state requirements.

    Fairfax has been very inattentive to the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation. Following the state requirements should be a high priority. Seven years ago administrators added a few minutes to the elementary school schedule so that the students would have enough time for 10 minutes of recess and not a minute more. It seems odd that now that compliance with the Standards of Accreditation is dependent on a strict limit of 10 minutes per day for recess, FCPS has no written guidance on the length of time for recess. I know from reports from many sources that many schools allow recess periods of 20 or 30 minutes per day. The drawback to this is that the children do not receive the instructional hours guaranteed to them by the Standards of Accreditation. Clearly Fairfax administrators and school board members need to take urgent action to expand the amount of time available in the elementary school week. It is penny-wise and pound-foolish to continue to economize by failing to meet state standards.

  • Maria Hudson

    I think the poll at the end of this article is very antagonistic (not to mention, completely unscientific). No one is proposing that teachers do not need planning time. Giving teachers 2 hours to plan once a week is utterly insufficient. They need time to plan every single day and they need more than two hours to plan a week’s worth of education. We want our children to have the education to which they are entitled and we want their teachers to have adequate time for planning. Nearly every school district in the country gives students full school days while also giving teachers time for planning and professional development. With all of its resources, Fairfax County should not have to lag behind.

  • Laura Beth

    Yes, children (and parents) should have a uniform release time throughout the school week AND yes, teachers need adequate planning time. Almost every school district in the country does both – why is it so difficult for FCPS?

    • Jen

      Because we’re huge…HUGE. Other school districts don’t have nearly the struggle Fairfax County does trying to implement changes to things like bus schedules and school days. FCPS, with its enrollment of 190,161 students in 2011, is the 12th largest school district in the United States and THE largest in Virginia. The next school system in Virginia is Prince William and they are #40 nationwide and only have 82,843. Less than half the number of kids we have. So, while I think this is a good change to be made to the schedule (as long as teachers are still given that planning time elsewhere in the week), I do NOT think it will happen anytime soon as it will take time to find a way to make it work.

  • Boss

    Split the county into 2 to reduce the size. Fairfax City will be the middle.

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