The school board will discuss the plan, proposed by a committee of principals, at a work session on Thursday. The plan will change how FCPS counts yearly instructional time.
FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza says the change is necessary because it will eliminate the snow days problem and allow for more self-directed planning time for teachers.
Under the new plan, the required 180-day school year will meet the mark with a 990-hour school year. Both are options under Virginia rules. Loudoun County uses the 990-hour system and does not have to scramble when winter wreaks havoc on the schedule.
Fairfax has three days built in for weather cancellations, and FCPS says the system uses an average of four a year. By moving to an hourly system, the schools would be able to absorb 13 snow days in a school year because students would already be in school for the required number of hours.
In 2013-14, a particularly snowy winter, FCPS used 11 snow days, which has pushed the school year to June 25 in order to have the required makeup days.
For decades, FCPS elementary school students have attended two-thirds of a day on Monday in order for teachers to have meeting and planning time. It is often the bane of parents, who have to scramble for Monday child care or alter their work schedules.
“I would be happier about more instructional time,” said Debra Steppel, a Reston parent of elementary students. “And I would be happy about having a consistent Monday through Friday schedule. Most workplaces have their busiest day on Mondays, and the schedule has caused chaos for a lot of people for many years.”
The new plan may go into effect as early as September. This is a separate issue from the plan to change high school start times, which may also affect elementary school students as they may start school earlier in the day. The details of that plan are still being worked out, and it will not go into effect until at least 2015-16.
School officials said teachers would have built-in time for planning. Middle school and high school students would see no change in their scheduling.
But one local elementary school administrator (who requested anonymity as the administrator is not authorized to speak on the subject) is skeptical there will be additional planning time.
“I’d like to know where the ‘more’ planning time is coming from,” the staffer said. “When they went to Mondays, they extended the Tuesday through Friday day. If they shorten that, will we have less time? The Monday schedule in elementary is crucial to professional development for teachers and is one of the only places they can get training in areas they need support. ”
The change will not come without a price. The Washington Post reports that implementation will cost FCPS between $4 and $7.6 million. FCPS recently adopted a $2.5 billion budget that included elimination of more than 700 staff positions and $97 million in cuts. The high school bell time changes are also estimated to cost between $2.7 and $7.6 million.
School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon (At Large) told the Post the calendar changes could be paid for with surplus money from this school year. Most of the cost would be to pay teachers for the 2 1/2 more hours they would be working.
Meanwhile, there is concern that the changes will affect arts and music education for students. In order to allow for adequate planning time during the school day, some music arts and physical education classes would be affected, said at-large school board member Ryan McElveen.
A Change.org petition is making the rounds among Fairfax County parents and students asking to keep arts programs in place.
“Some students take up to three periods of music,” McElveen said. “The idea has been floated that fourth-through-sixth graders participating in extra music (ie, band or chorus) be able to opt out of general music. But this is far from a final plan.”