Montgomery County calendar won’t refer to religious holidays

Next year none of the school holidays in Montgomery County will refer to religious holidays. Yesterday the school board voted on the Calendar for 2015-16. All the holidays around Christmas time will be called Winter Break and all of the holidays around Easter will be called Spring Break. Fairfax County has followed this practice for many years.

In the current school year calendar Montgomery County lists December 24 and 25 as Holidays-Christmas. December 26, 29, 30, and 31 are called Winter Break. April 3 is listed as Good Friday and April 6 is listed as Easter Monday. The period between April 7-10 is called Spring Break.

Sine the 1970s, Montgomery County Public Schools have closed for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Washington Post reports. Next year those two Jewish holidays will be simply listed as days when there is “no school for students.”

The Post summarizes the decision:

Board members said Tuesday that the new calendar will reflect days the state requires the system to be closed and that it will close on other days that have shown a high level of student and staff absenteeism. Though those days happen to coincide with major Christian and Jewish holidays, board members made clear that the days off are not meant to observe those religious holidays, which they say is not legally permitted.

The Post reports that the decision “followed a request from Muslim community leaders to give equal billing to the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha.”

Several board members pledged to produce a clearer standard for the kind of operational impacts that might lead to further consideration of closing schools on a Muslim holiday in the future. The calendar change Tuesday affects only the next school year.

Veterans Day should be a school holiday

Today Veterans Day is a federal holiday. The History of Veterans Day shows how the observances have changed since the first Armistice Day on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.

It is a school holiday in the public schools in the District of Columbia, Prince William County, Arlington County, and Manassas City. In Prince George’s County, school is closed for students and parent teacher conferences are scheduled.

In Montgomery County, November 10 and 11 are early release days for K-8. Students are dismissed after lunch and parent conferences are scheduled.

In Anne Arundel County schools dismiss two hours early. There is no half-day P.M. preK/ECI or p.m. sessions at CAT centers. First period evening high school classes are cancelled.

Veterans Day is a full school day for students in Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Fauquier County, Falls Church City, Alexandria City, and Charles County.

Veterans Day should be a student holiday. In 2012 and 2013 Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) proposed making Veterans Day a holiday in Fairfax County. However, these proposals were not passed. The vote for the 2015-16 calendar will be March 5, 2015.

Pennsylvania offers Flexible Instructional Days

The Pocono Record reports that a pilot program in Pennsylvania allows school districts “to participate in a flexible instruction program that allows students to learn from home up to five days each year.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Flexible Instructional Days offer schools the ability to use nontraditional educational delivery methods on regularly scheduled school days in which circumstances, such as inclement weather, necessitate an alternate approach.

“As we continue to advance through the twenty-first century, our education system is adapting to and actively using technology for the delivery of instructor and educational materials,” Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq said. “The Flexible Instructional Days program offers schools the option to deliver instruction through the use of digital technology when students are prevented from physcially being in the classroom.”

“As we continue to advance through the twenty-first century, our education system is adapting to and actively using technology for the delivery of instruction and educational materials,” Dumaresq said.  “The Flexible Instructional Days program offers schools the option to deliver instruction through the use of digital technology when students are prevented from physically being in the classroom.” – See more at: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=7234&PageID=1005857&mode=2&contentid=http://pubcontent.state.pa.us/publishedcontent/publish/cop_hhs/pde/single_web/no_workflow_requried/news_and_media/articles/acting_secretary_of_education_announces_flexible_instructional_days_pilot_program_for_pennsylvania_schools.html#sthash.4M8piImX.dpuf

The Public School Code requires schools to offer at least 180 days or 900 hours of instruction to grades 1-6 or 990 hours of instruction for grades 7-12.  This flexibility provides schools with the opportunity to meet these requirements through the use of digital resources.

“The program could be seen as a godsend for many, particularly in a region that was hit with about 67 inches of snow last winter, forcing schools to close and students and educators to scramble to make up for the lost days,” the Pocono Record reports.

particularly in a region that was hit with about 67 inches of snow last winter, forcing schools to close and students and educators to scramble to make up for the lost days. – See more at: http://www.poconorecord.com/article/20141106/NEWS/141109621/101100/NEWS#sthash.qCWNt1F5.dpuf
The program could be seen as a godsend for many, particularly in a region that was hit with about 67 inches of snow last winter, forcing schools to close and students and educators to scramble to make up for the lost days. – See more at: http://www.poconorecord.com/article/20141106/NEWS/141109621/101100/NEWS#sthash.qCWNt1F5.dpuf

For Flexible Instructional Days to be considered a school day and count toward the number of days or hours required under the Public School Code, schools must submit to the Department of Education a summary of their program that demonstrates the school has addressed the overall management of the program, curriculum and instruction, and student and teacher access to technology and supports. 

Schools electing to offer Flexible Instructional Days may create a program that is online, offline or a combination of the two. However, if the program consists of elements that rely on public broadcast or Internet options, comparable alternatives must be made available to students and teachers unable to access the resources due to a lack of power, technology or connectivity.

The superintendent of the Stroudsburg Area School District, John Toleno, rejected the idea of Flexible Instruction Days for his district:

At some point, we will have to deal with the haves and the have nots, and I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about access to computers and cellular devices,” Toleno said.

Pocono Mountain School District Superintendent Elizabeth Robison told Stacy M. Brown, “We will look at the program and see how it works and whether we can implement it here.”

 

Short lunch and recess periods criticized by Seattle parents

Seattle students being denied enough lunch and recess time in school.  The Ballard News Tribune reports:

Parent observations have found that many schools in Seattle have only 15 minutes of lunch and 15 minutes of recess. As a result, children who eat hot lunch often had as little as 4 to 6 minutes of actual seated eating time to finish their meal. For example, Whittier students who brought sack lunches had an average of 10.5 minutes to eat, while kids who get hot lunch—including those receiving free and reduced lunches—have an average of 7 minutes to eat, as their 15-minute lunch period includes time standing in line for food. Parents also reported their own children were coming home hungry, with low blood sugar, and often had full lunchboxes due to a lack of time to finish their meals.

Should students practice hiding in closets?

Launa Hall, a pre-K teacher in Arlington, writes about the trouble with lockdown drills. She and her assistant are required to lock the door, lower the window blinds  and shepherd the 16 children in their class into a cramped closet when the assistant principal announces over the loudspeaker, “Lockdown, everyone, thank you.”

“Instead of controlling guns and inconveniencing those who would use them, we are rounding up and silencing a generation of schoolchildren, and terrifying those who care for them,” Hall says. “We are giving away precious time to teach and learn while we cower in fear.”

More later start times are being planned

Later school start times in Fairfax could set a trend as experts call for more teen sleep. This is a great article in today’s Washington Post.

School board votes for later high school start times

Tonight the Fairfax County School Board voted 11-1 for later high school start times starting September 2015. It was an emotional evening for some of the school board members as well as supporters of the proposal in the auditorium.

FCPS has already issued a press release:

Citing the clear health benefits for adolescents, the Fairfax County School Board approved a recommendation for starting high schools later, between 8 and 8:10 a.m. and ending between 2:45 and 2:55 p.m.  This change, which will begin in the 2015-16 school year, will benefit more than 57,000 high school students representing more than 30 percent of Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) student population.

The School Board’s decision reflects a start time change for all four years of high school, a crucial period for students’ college-preparatory or work-readiness years as well as their athletic engagements and other activities. As a part of the decision, the School Board approved later start times for all middle and high school students who attend the three FCPS secondary schools.

Middle school students will attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. The elementary school window remains unchanged with elementary school students beginning their day between 8 and 9:20 a.m. All elementary schools will start at the same time or within 5 to 10 minutes of their current start time.

“The issue of later start times has been debated and explored for more than a decade in this community,” said Tammy Derenak-Kaufax, School Board chairman. “The growing body of research on the health benefits for adolescents has become so clear and compelling, we felt that we had to make a change.”

In August, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement that recommended later start times so that school schedules would be aligned with the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents. Other research indicates sleep-deprived students have shortened attention spans, slower reaction time, lower test scores, poorer grades, increased rates of depression, and higher risk of car crashes.

The School Board’s approval of the new start times schedule for the 2015-16 school year will allow families and employees almost a full calendar year to adjust to the change.

“We believe it is best to give our families and employees plenty of time to adjust to a change of this magnitude,” said Superintendent Karen Garza. “Between now and next September, we will work with intention to finalize bell schedules and to make needed adjustments to ensure that this is a smooth transition for our stakeholders and our community.”

The change will require the addition of 27 buses at a cost of $4.9 million.

Superintendent Garza developed a recommendation to alter high school start times after extensive discussions and community outreach over the last two years. Beginning in June 2012, the School Board held six work sessions to discuss the issue. In addition, eight community meetings were held between May 19 and June 11, 2014, during which approximately 1,000 participants shared their opinions on four options.  In conjunction with the community meetings, more than 2,000 comments were gathered through online feedback.

Background

The Fairfax County School Board adopted a resolution in April 2012 to seek solutions to establish high school start times at 8 a.m. or later.

Following the adoption of the resolution, Children’s National Medical Center’s (CNMC) Division of Sleep Medicine worked with a stakeholder committee and initiated a process to develop a Blueprint for Change. The committee studied several workable scenarios to start high schools in Fairfax County after 8 a.m. in an effort to improve students’ mental and physical health, academic performance, and safety. The scenarios were presented to the School Board earlier this year.

For more details, visit the Later High School Start Times web page.

Kathy Smith (Sully) voted against the change in schedule, citing concerns about the cost and objections expressed by some of her constituents.

School board likely to approve later start times for high schools

The Fairfax County School Board will vote tonight on later start times for high schools.  In her newsletter, Chairman Tammy Derenak Kaufax says she will vote “yes,” because “changing start times gives our children the opportunity to sleep later and, in turn, our students can have improved health, greater quality of life and better school performance.”

SLEEP: Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal for Fairfax County VA Schools has posted a brief summary of the agenda item:

Moving Towards A Positive Change For Our Children!

The school board is another step closer to reaching its goal to start high schools at or after 8 a.m. With strong consensus, the board agreed to post Superintendent Garza’s preferred plan as New Business on September 18th and will vote on the plan on October 23rd. The preferred plan for implementation in 2015-2016 is a significant improvement over the current situation. In addition, Dr. Garza indicated her goal to continue working to get the middle school start times closer to 8 a.m. in the future! We support the board’s work and tremendous progress on this issue.

 

High school schedule

Middle school schedule

Elementary school schedule

2014-2015

7:20

7:20 – 8:05

8:00 – 9:20

Preferred Plan with length of day = 6 h 45 m

8:00 – 8:10

7:30

8:00 – 9:20

Implementation of this scenario means that all Fairfax students will have a start time after 8 a.m. for at least ten or eleven of their thirteen years in Fairfax County. And, secondary school students may entirely avoid start times before 8 a.m., which will be a relief to families who have had to suffer the painfully early starts for six years in a row up to now. This option may not be perfect, but it is a big improvement over the current schedule that has many middle and all high school students starting at 7:20 a.m.

This option retains the current schedules of the elementary schools and continues to dismiss older siblings in time to provide after-school care for younger siblings. The impact on sports and extra-curricular activities is minimal. FCPS will continue to offer a middle school after-school program five days a week that is free of charge.

One major accomplishment of the FCPS Transportation staff in the CNMC Blueprint for Change is the elimination of extra-early school arrival times, what is known as the “false tier.” High school students and many middle school students are currently delivered to school 20-35 minutes prior to the bell. The new plan narrows that delivery window to 10 or 15 minutes, and gives the extra time in the morning to families rather than having students cool their heels in school buildings. This means that high school buses will arrive at school 65-75 minutes later than many do now. The net effect also helps offset the change for middle schools that shift earlier.

 

SNA calls for flexibility in school lunch rules

On October 7, School Nutrition Association CEO Patti Montague submitted the following letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to its recent article:

“How School Lunch Became the Latest Political Battleground” (Oct. 7) ignored critical failures of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) overly prescriptive school meal regulations and misrepresented the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) advocacy efforts, specifically omitting policy solutions proposed by school nutrition professionals.

SNA members have consistently supported strong federal nutrition standards for school meals, including limits on calories and fat, mandates to offer students more fruits and vegetables, and reasonable sodium and whole grain requirements. Those on the frontlines in school cafeterias nationwide are merely asking for common-sense flexibility under the most stringent requirements.

School nutrition professionals nationwide have struggled to plan menus that meet these complex regulatory requirements but still appeal to students. The goal of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was to have more students eating healthy school lunches, but under these regulations, USDA data show more than one million fewer students choose school lunch each day. Students are choosing convenience food over meals that offer milk, fruits and vegetables, while declining meal sales rob schools of revenue for additional menu improvements.

The financial pressure will only intensify. USDA estimates that in Fiscal Year 2015, local school districts and states must absorb $1.22 billion in new food, labor and administrative costs under the regulations, amounting to a 10 cent increase in the cost of preparing each school lunch and a 27 cent increase for breakfast.

Without relief, more paying students will leave the cafeteria, increasing the stigma on students who rely on free school meals, and draining school district budgets in the process.

SNA is asking USDA and Congress to provide common-sense flexibility under the rules to help schools limit waste, manage costs and encourage more students to choose healthy school lunches. Specifically, SNA’s requests are:

  • Maintain the 2012 requirement that half of grains offered be whole grain rich, instead of requiring that all grains be whole grain rich.

  • Maintain Target 1 sodium levels, and suspend further reductions until scientific research supports them.To avoid food waste, offer, but do not require students to take a fruit or vegetable.Allow healthy items permitted on the meal line to be sold a la carte as well.

See also I support the School Nutrition Association proposals.

I support the School Nutrition Association proposals

The most recent New York Times article on school lunch controversies was written by Nicholas Confessore, a political correspondent. His article focuses on personalities and doesn’t address the substance of the advocacy of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) for changes in some of the new regulations.

He calls the members of SNA “lunch ladies,” a term he says that almost nobody in Washington uses in public and almost everyone uses in private.

The consistent use of this term throughout the article adds to a dismissive bias against critics of certain regulations. I think that Congress should change some school lunch requirements. Perhaps the Times should assign some of its science reporters to explain the scientific, rather than the political, controversies on subjects such as salt and fat.

It is misleading to imply that this is a contest between politicians and scientists. At one point in the article, Confessore describes the School Nutrition Association as “isolated.” He cites other organizations that opposed the one-year waiver of some of the school meal standards.

So, instead of trying to explain the rationale behind certain rules, such as the amount of sodium in school lunches and breakfasts, the Times instead subtly tries to persuade its readers to ignore the “isolated” lunch ladies. The article refers to the federal dietary guidelines for sodium, but does not note the new studies questioning these guidelines or the Times editorial noting these questions.

Is this an article about the latest fashions, or the latest in the science of nutrition?

I support the school lunch ladies.