Fairfax announces revised procedures for emergency school closings

Fairfax County Public Schools has published revised regulations for emergency school closings, or delays, or early dismissals.

 

Not all student holidays are teacher workdays

At last night’s meeting of the Fairfax County School Board, Superintendent Karen Garza said that the three fewer student school days in this year’s and probably next year’s calendar are used as teacher workdays.

It’s true that there are more teacher workdays in the calendars. However, there are also more holidays for both students and teachers. I don’t agree that a two-week winter break is a good idea. Sure, this helps some families who are going on trips. But not everyone travels at Christmas and New Year’s. For some families, finding child care for three extra days in December can be a hardship. Some children would definitely be better off being able to go to school for some extra days at that time. In addition to more instruction, they have breakfast and lunch provided.

Fairfax could easily provide two or three additional days in the calendar next year by waiting to start Winter Break on either December 23 or December 24.

More serious consideration needs to be paid to finding a schedule that would best serve the needs of disadvantaged students.

The student calendar should include 183 days

At the public hearing on the FY 2016 budget held tonight, I urged the Fairfax County School Board to add three days to the school calendar next year. Here is my testimony:

In recent years the school board included 183 days in the student calendar. This year this was reduced to 180 days. The proposed budget would save $1.3 million by continuing a limit of 180 days in next year’s calendar.[i] I think it would be better to return to the tradition scheduling three days more than the state requirement of 180 days to allow for snow days.

It is true that Fairfax can meet state requirements by providing more than 990 instructional hours. However, I don’t think we should try to just barely meet state requirements after allowing for snow days and lunch periods and recess. If we have been willing to fund 183 days in the past, I think we should continue this tradition and not try to economize by reducing the number of days the calendar.

The average number of snow days recorded over the past 30 years was 3.9 days per year. Last year and in 2003 and 2010 there were 11 snow days. In the past 12 years we have seen an increasing number of days lost from school due to inclement weather. Let’s not artificially subtract additional days from the standard calendar.

[i] Proposed Budget, Fairfax County, Virginia FY 16, p.52. “Contract Length Reductions—Full-Day Mondays ($1.3 Million)” I believe it is misleading to link these contract length reductions to full day Mondays. It is true that the calendar was adjusted at the same time that the Monday early dismissal policy was eliminated, but it was a separate issue. This year salaries were held harmless, but the proposed FY 2016 budget includes cuts.

Superintendent Garza made some comments on this issue. At this hour (9:50 p.m.) the school board is still meeting, so I will wait until tomorrow to fill in some more details.

Long weekend for Fairfax students starts tomorrow afternoon

Will Your Kids Ever Go Back to School? We’ll Tell You When. This article in the Herndon, VA Patch has the subhead: “Short day Thursday starts a VERY long weekend for Fairfax students.”

This year Fairfax shortened the number of days in the school year. Should this shortened number of days be continued next year? It would be better to plan for 183 days in the school year to allow for some snow days. It is predictable that Fairfax will have three or more snow days most years. Even though Fairfax meets the alternative state requirement of at least 990 hours in the school year, it is not overly ambitious to seek to achieve 180 days in school on average.

Montgomery County to decide on school start times

Recommendations posted by Montgomery County:

The Montgomery County Board of Education is considering several options for adjusting school starting and ending times—also known as bell times—allowing high school students to begin classes later in the day. Any changes to bell times will be approved on February 10, 2015, as part of the Board’s Fiscal Year 2016 Operating Budget Request to the Montgomery County Executive and County Council. The annual costs of the proposals before the Board range from zero to nearly $6 million. Concerned about projected budget shortfalls in the county and the state, Superintendent Joshua P. Starr has recommended the Board only consider no-cost options.

Later high school start times in Montgomery County?

NBC4 Washington shows parents asking for later high school start times in Montgomery County.

 

Cold weather has presented challenges to bus drivers

The Fairfax Times reports on the difficulties faced by school bus drivers in Fairfax on cold days.

The school system has heat rails at some of its bus lots. Buses can plug into these and heat their engines over night, keeping the oil and fuel warm and making the buses easier to start in the mornings. But the school system only has enough heat rails to serve about 500 buses each night, less than a third of the fleet.

Also, “when winter weather threatens, the school system also calls in its bus drivers 30 minutes early. Drivers arrive at their buses between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. to get their vehicles started.”

 

Will Maryland schools start after Labor Day?

Today Comptroller Peter Franchot will announce the results of a petition to start Maryland public schools after Labor Day. NBC4 reports that Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, state Senator James Mathias, and Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan will also participate in the news conference.

 

Florida parents request a mandate for recess

In Orlando, Florida, over 50 parents and children asked the Orange County School Board to require recess in the elementary schools. The Orlando Sentinel reports that only a handful of the 123 elementary schools in the district mandate that children must have at least 20 minutes for recess. Twenty-three have no requirement for recess.

After hearing from the parents, the Orange board later decided to ask area superintendents to get all elementary principals to work recess and physical activity into their schedules starting next fall. They also discussed passing a resolution encouraging principals to work recess into school schedules — but not mandating it.

NBC News had a report today about the school board meeting that was held on Tuesday: Watch The Today Show Clip: Florida Parents Fight to Keep School Recess – ShareTV.

Slippery roads this morning

A station wagon took about five or ten minutes to spin its wheels in the snow on the street in front of my house this morning attempting to drive north. The driver inched ahead slowly, then went backwards, then finally made it to the flat part of the road. I think it would have been safer for Fairfax County Public Schools to have a delayed  opening this morning.