Second thoughts on teacher workdays

My previous post urging some school districts to cancel the upcoming teacher workdays was written rather hastily. This afternoon I talked to a neighbor walking home with her son from Weyanoke Elementary School. She said that it is very time-consuming for the teachers to enter in the end-of-quarter grades.  One reason is that the computer program is rather cumbersome.

Perhaps Fairfax should go ahead and switch to a more up-to-date computer program.

Cancel the upcoming teacher workdays!

 The Washington Post points out that Prince William County has a scheduled teacher workday Monday, so students will have had 13 days away from school when they return on Tuesday: Some parents and educators fret about so many days lost to snow cleanup . This is an example of an overly bureaucratic approach to sticking to a schedule. Let the students go back to school on Monday!

Also, Fairfax should skip its scheduled 2-hour early dismissal on February 4 and student holiday on February 5. Let the students have more time at school!


Fairfax was too slow in clearing snow from school parking lots

Yesterday I wrote that Fairfax County should clear snow from sidewalks, bus stops, and fire hydrants.

That is worth considering for the future. Meanwhile there are questions about how well the County is handling its current responsibilities for snow removal. Judi Reitman points out that Fairfax County was too slow in clearing snow from school and library entrances and parking lots. In email sent this afternoon, she writes:

My subdivision, Willow Run, was one of the lucky ones.  VDOT had hired a snowplow contractor to periodically throughout the snow storm plow the subdivision streets, and by Monday morning, January 25, if you could get to the street, you could get out to a main road.  I didn’t venture out until Tuesday afternoon, January 25, and on my way back from the Giant on 236, I glanced at the George Mason Library.  It was about 2:30 that afternoon, and I was surprised to see the first snowplow just starting to tackle the parking lot, actually right at the entrance. As I continued home I noticed that no one had started plowing Thomas Jefferson’s back exit, and it appeared that the front entrance had just been started with no work done on any parking lots.

Once home, I started thinking.  Why didn’t Fairfax County contract with snow plow operators like VDOT had?  If the county had contracts that stated that once the roads were passable, the snowplow operator would start plowing libraries and schools, this work would have been done on Monday, not late Tuesday and Wednesday.  That might have made a difference in opening the schools.  I went past the library again today and it was open and packed with people.

Fairfax County should clear snow from sidewalks, bus stops, and fire hydrants

To justify their decision to keep schools closed tomorrow and Friday, Fairfax administrators said that there were numerous sidewalks and bus stops still covered with snow. They politely ask members of the community to please clear these sidewalks and bus stops.

This policy of simply hoping that all the sidewalks used by students will be cleared by various individuals is clearly ineffective. It is not much better than simply waiting for all the snow to melt away. I liked the op-ed by Tom Vanderbilt in today’s New York Times which questions why clearing sidewalks is so often considered to be a private responsibility.

Sidewalks occupy a curious place in the American city. As the scholar Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris has noted, in 19th-century cities the maintenance of sidewalks was assigned to abutting homeowners because they were presumed to benefit the most from these newly built amenities. And yet, in most jurisdictions, municipalities have had a shared responsibility (particularly in slip-and-fall lawsuits, although this liability in New York was shifted to property owners in 2003).

So even though the sidewalk is, in practice, a public space that almost every New Yorker will use in the course of a day, it is treated instead as a piecemeal extension to private property. (As a thought experiment, imagine if property owners had to shovel not just their sidewalks, but the street in front of their buildings, too.) And there is that curious no man’s land at street crossings, a legal limbo beyond the reach of the shovels of the corner bodega or bank, and buried by the snow pushed aside by rumbling city plows.

Vanderbilt also points to how communities can assume responsibility for this:

In the wake of the storm, the city began hiring temporary “snow laborers” to shovel out hydrants, crosswalks and other spaces. This itself smacks of haphazard catch-up, a game other cities don’t play. Rochester, for instance, plows the sidewalks after storms that drop more than four inches of snow; Montreal starts doing it after one inch. Even car-oriented places like the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights has sidewalk-specific Bombardier snow removal machines. New York City, the country’s capital of pedestrianism, can do better.

So can Fairfax County! The county should be responsible for clearing sidewalks, bus stops, and fire hydrants.

The other day I spent about a half hour clearing snow from a fire hydrant on the street next to our side yard. This is an important responsibility, but is it really prudent to rely on various individuals to be able to handle this chore in a timely manner? I suggested in an email to the Lincolnia Park Google Group that perhaps our civic association could hire a contractor to handle this job in the future. Others have commented that some places have an adopt–a-hydrant program. That is interesting.

However, Tom Vanderbilt’s excellent article has convinced me that it is quite reasonable to ask our local government to clear our public sidewalks, bus stops, and fire hydrants.

Blizzard of 2016 leads to more school closures

The District of Columbia has announced there will be no school tomorrow due to the Blizzard of 2016. Fairfax County Public Schools says there won’t be school on either Monday or Tuesday. It’s obvious it will take a few days to dig out!



Senate bill would give schools more flexibility on school meal requirements

NBC News reports that a bipartisan Senate agreement would give schools more flexibility on school lunch and breakfast rules, “easing requirements on whole grains and delaying an upcoming deadline to cut sodium levels.”

The School Nutrition Association posted an analysis of the proposed legislation.

SNA worked to identify solutions for Child Nutrition Reauthorization

The non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) worked collaboratively with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the White House and the Senate Agriculture Committee to reach an agreement to improve nutrition standards for school meals. The agreement preserves strong standards to benefit students while easing some regulatory mandates to alleviate unintended challenges facing school meal programs. The agreement will be included in the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill, scheduled for a markup on Wednesday.

“SNA was pleased to work alongside USDA in crafting practical solutions to help school nutrition professionals in their ongoing efforts to improve school meal programs for students,” said SNA President Jean Ronnei, SNS. “In the absence of increased funding, this agreement eases operational challenges and provides school meal programs critical flexibility to help them plan healthy school meals that appeal to students.”

“SNA members greatly appreciate the leadership of Chairman Pat Roberts, Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, and Senator John Hoeven for their efforts to address some of the unintended challenges resulting from school nutrition regulations,” said Ronnei.


WHOLE GRAINS: Under current regulations, all grains offered with school meals must be whole grain rich – down to the croutons on the fresh salad bar. This agreement requires 80% of the grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich, allowing schools to offer occasional servings of enriched grains. The change provides flexibility for schools struggling with product availability and allows schools to make special exceptions to appeal to diverse student tastes and regional preferences for items like white tortillas or biscuits that don’t meet current standards.

SODIUM: Schools have made great strides in reducing sodium to meet Target 1 sodium levels, effective on July 1, 2014. However, school nutrition professionals have warned that later sodium targets will push many healthy options, like low-fat deli sandwiches, soups and salads off the menu, due in part to naturally occurring sodium in foods.

Under the agreement, schools gain two additional years to meet Target 2 limits, which will now take effect on July 1, 2019. Starting in 2019, a study will be conducted to determine whether scientific research supports the final sodium limits (effective July 1, 2022) and whether food companies are capable of preparing foods that meet those limits. The study will also evaluate the impact of Target 2 limits on student lunch participation, food cost, safety and food service operations.

A LA CARTE: Smart Snacks in School regulations (effective July 1, 2014) severely limited the items sold in cafeteria a la carte lines, prohibiting the sale of everything from low-fat, whole-grain pizza to salads or hummus with a side of whole grain pretzels. As a result, students have fewer healthy choices in the cafeteria and schools have collected less revenue to offset the higher cost of meeting new regulations. This agreement will establish a working group to examine the impact of a la carte restrictions and recommend to USDA a list of allowable nutrient-dense food exemptions for a la carte sale.

FRUIT AND VEGETABLE MANDATES: The updated regulations required schools to offer students larger servings and a wider variety of fruits or vegetables; however, rules requiring every student to take a fruit or vegetable with every school meal has increased the amount of produce being thrown away in the cafeteria. Although salad bars and sharing tables help reduce food waste by allowing students to select the foods they prefer and share foods they don’t care to eat, some local food safety inspectors have discouraged schools from utilizing them. Under the agreement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USDA will establish new guidance, designed for local governments, confirming the safety of and encouraging the use of salad bars and sharing tables.

SNA had requested an increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school meals to help schools offset the higher cost of meeting new nutrition standards. When the regulations were released, USDA estimated increased food and labor costs under the new rules would amount to a 10 cent increase in the cost of preparing every lunch and 27 cent increase in the cost of preparing every breakfast. Congress provided schools an additional 6 cents for each lunch served, but no extra funding for breakfast. As a result, schools are financially struggling under the regulations, as indicated by a recent SNA survey.

“SNA will continue working with partners to support school meal programs and to seek additional assistance to help schools manage increased costs and improve meals for students,” said Ronnei.

Howard County adds three more holidays to school calendar

Yesterday the Howard County Board of Education voted unanimously to continue with the current practice of schools and offices being closed on mandated state holidays, and Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah in the 2016–2017 Academic Calendar. The board also asked the school system to propose options for including three new days when schools will be closed next school year.

The Board asked school system staff to identify one additional day to recognize each of the following cultural observances only for the 2016-2017 calendar: Lunar New Year Eve, the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha, and the Hindu holiday of Diwali. The system will need to bring options back to the Board for consideration that would close schools for students, or for both students and staff.

The system will issue a Request for Proposal to study the impact of the range of religious observances celebrated in Howard County to inform the development of the 2017-2018 calendar that will be presented to the Board in September. The 2017-2018 Academic Calendar Committee has begun to meet and includes representation from a broad array of community groups, including the Jewish Federation of Howard County, the Howard County Muslim Council, the Hindu community, and the Chinese American Parent Association.

The 2016-2017 school year is proposed to begin for students on August 29, staff will return on August 22, and the school year would end on June 13, 2017, contingent on any approved revisions to accommodate the additional holidays. Five days will be built into the calendar for inclement weather, which would extend the school year if necessary.

The board approved the system’s recommendation to issue the RFP for an independent research organization to survey and obtain data to inform future calendar decisions. An independent company or organization would ensure objectivity, consistency and analytical integrity by collecting data on student and staff attendance on religious and cultural holidays. Voluntary disclosure of religious preference would be invited as part of the survey.

The board also renewed its commitment to improve communication and implementation of current policy, so all members of our school community understand their rights to observe their religion and have the opportunity and time to make up work. The system will work with school-based administrators to ensure that the provisions of Policy 3000, Religious Observances, are communicated to students and families. The calendar committee was asked to bring the proposed start dates for the 2017-2018 school year and to honor the board’s prior commitment to approve the 2016-2017 calendar, before the end of the current school year.

Here are some news reports:

Howard County adds Muslim, Hindu holidays to school calendar – Baltimore Sun

Howard County Schools Go ‘All-In’ On Observing School Religious Holidays– WMAL-AF

Howard County schools to add more holidays to next school calendar– WBAL

Howard County considers keeping schools open on Jewish holy days

Today the Howard County Board of Education will consider a proposal to keep schools open on the Jewish holy days of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

The Washington Post reports that “Howard officials say they can’t by law decide to close public schools for religious holidays; they say there must be secular reasons, such as expectations of high absenteeism on specific days, which would affect school operations.”

Here is the overview of the agenda item for the proposed 2016-2017 Academic Calendar:

This report describes the development of the Superintendent’s Proposed 2016-2017 Academic Calendar for the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS), which supports all four goals in Vision 2018. The 2016-2017 Academic Calendar Planning Committee was charged with recommending to the Superintendent an academic calendar that will enhance the system’s ability to achieve Vision 2018.

In its work, the Academic Calendar Planning Committee reviewed the current calendar, considered calendars from other school systems, and incorporated input from the Board of Education, the Superintendent’s Cabinet, and various stakeholder groups including students, staff members, parents, and community members.

The committee focused on eight items including the:
1. Closings on days of religious and cultural holiday observance.
2. November parent-teacher conferences.
3. Spring parent-teacher conferences.
4. Professional learning and professional work days.
5. Impact of half-days on the instructional program.
6. Scheduling of winter break in December.
7. Scheduling of spring break in April.
8. Inclusion of inclement weather makeup days in June.

Recognizing the changing demographics in the HCPSS and a desire to be equitable to all students, staff and families, the Superintendent’s Proposed 2016-2017 Academic Calendar included two options. Option 1 maintains the closing of schools on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Option 2 closes schools only on state mandated holidays. All other placements for closings during the school year are identical….

The Post article mentions that Anne Arundel County has decided to open schools on Rosh Hashanah next year for the first time since 2003.

Schools will open late, but not close on primary day

Today Superintendent Karen Garza explained Fairfax schools are not planning to close on primary day.  Here is a press release on the subject:

Statement from FCPS Superintendent Karen K. Garza on Primary Day

You may be reading or hearing about a request from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for FCPS to close schools on March 1, primary day in Virginia.  As you know, the School Board voted in October to delay the opening of schools on March 1 by two hours at the request of the County Office of Elections to accommodate the anticipated heavy voter turnout.  At this time, there are no plans to close schools for the entire day on March 1.

FCPS is obligated by law to have a 180 day calendar, and if FCPS is closed for primary day, another student holiday would need to be used as school day.

For many years, schools have been open and serving as polling locations without incident.  The safety of our students, staff, and visitors is always our priority and we work closely with election officials, our security team, and law enforcement to ensure the safety of all.   On election day, all school staff and voting officials at each site are asked to remain vigilant and quickly report any suspicious or inappropriate activity.  Extra security patrols are added to address any concerns the schools may have and parent volunteers often assist by walking hallways and monitoring public areas.

Today’s suggestion to close schools on March 1 came as a complete surprise to both FCPS staff and the Fairfax County School Board.  FCPS will be reaching out to the Elections Office to learn more about the new security concerns that have been raised. FCPS will continue to keep the community informed regarding any new developments.

Thank you for your understanding and support.

Here are some news reports which cite concerns that the Republican plan to ask primary voters in the Republican contest to pledge to vote for the Republican candidate in the general election will cause additional delays. Donald Trump opposes the use of this pledge.

Fearing anger from Trump voters, Va. school district may close for the primary – The Washington Post

Virginia school district denies plans to close on election day due to Trump – POLITICO


Anne Arundel might decide to implement earlier high school start times

“Anne Arundel County Public Schools recently took an important step forward in an effort that dates to at least 1998 to change its high school start time, which at 7:17 a.m. is the earliest in Maryland and requires some students to be on buses before 5:30 a.m.”

Lisa VanBusKirk, the leader of Start School Later Anne Arundel County, MD, further explains in an op-ed in the Washington Post that the school board had voted to change the high school start times by this August. The Superintendent, George Arlotto supports changing the start times provided several conditions are met; however, his proposal is for the 2017-2018 school year.