A group of parents and education activists is pushing to add time to the elementary school schedule.
Elementary schools in Fairfax County have early dismissals on Mondays. The final bell rings 2.5 hours earlier on Mondays than it does the rest of the week. Virginia Fitz Shea, leader of the Full Schooldays group, sees those hours as potential learning time squandered.
That time on Monday afternoons currently is used by teachers for lesson planning, training and meetings, but Shea wants to make those minutes count for students. The Full Schooldays group started an online petition calling for full-day Mondays for elementary schools.
In Virginia, the standard instructional day for students in grades 1 through 12 must be 5.5 hours, not including time for lunch or recess.
School days in Fairfax County elementary schools run for 6 hours Tuesday through Friday, and 3.5 hours on the shortened Monday, not including a combined 40 minutes each day for lunch and recess. On average, that equals 5.5 hours per day, the school system following state requirements to the letter.
“We shouldn’t just stick to the mandates set in the Standards of Accreditation,” Shea said. “We should do better. We should lead the way.”
Interim Deputy Superintendent Dan Parris is leading a working group to study options for improved school schedules across all grade levels, K through 12, according to FCPS spokesman John Torre.
Yet School Board member Janie Strauss (Dranesville) urges caution in considering a change. As with everything in the school system, Strauss said, the elementary school schedule represents a delicate balance.
If the school system took away teacher planning time on Monday afternoons, it would need to find room for the planning time elsewhere. The planning time could be tacked onto the end of the day for teachers, but the longer hours would necessitate a salary bump.
“Teachers don’t work as volunteers,” Strauss said. “If we ask them to do more work, they should be compensated. It’s hard, within the current budget situation, to add another program that would cost us more.”
Strauss said she recognizes the advantages in a full-day Monday. Students receive more time in class, and more exercise during longer recess breaks. Parents juggling child care do not have to deal with the extra wrinkle of early dismissal.
But in a tight year with more than $98 million in budget cuts planned, the school system already is scraping the bottom of its coffers.
“There are obviously pluses and minuses,” Strauss said. “But the bottom line is that it’s hard, within the current budget situation, to add another program that would cost us more.”
Still, Shea believes the budget shouldn’t be the deciding factor.
“We’ve heard the excuse that it’s a budget problem for years and years,” Shea said. “Whether or not it’s cost neutral, somehow we need to find a way to give more instruction to our students. It’s the building block to everything else in the school system.”