As the Fairfax County school system rushes toward a decision on whether to eliminate Monday early dismissals for elementary schools for next school year, lack of teacher and community input has some officials calling for a slowdown.
The absence of teacher voices in particular has proved a sticking point in the debate over an issue inextricably tied to teacher planning time.
Elementary schools in Fairfax County currently have early dismissals on Mondays. The final bell rings 2.5 hours earlier on Mondays than it does the rest of the week.
The proposal to move to full-day Mondays would increase time in the classroom for students. But that time on Monday afternoons currently is used by teachers for lesson planning, training and meetings.
If the school system takes away that planning time, it would need to be found elsewhere. The threat to teacher planning time has been a hurdle to eliminating Monday early dismissals in the past.
Even with planning time, nearly one-third of Fairfax County educators said they spent more than 10 hours each week on school work outside of the regular school day, according to a survey conducted by the school system earlier this year. Any threat to in-school time for grading and lesson plans does not sit well with teachers.
The proposal before the School Board now includes teacher planning time as a key piece, with stricter regulations laid down. Teachers would be guaranteed 240 minutes per week for individual planning, and 75 minutes each week for collaborative work.
The plan was formed, though, by a working group of principals and administrative staff but no teachers or community members.
Interim deputy superintendent Dan Parris, who led the group, noted that its members were working with a September 2015 implementation in mind, which would have provided time for a more comprehensive engagement plan. However, Superintendent Karen Garza has pushed for elimination of Monday early dismissals starting this September.
School Board member Patty Reed (Providence) acknowledged the perceived benefits for both students and teachers built into the plan, but expressed concern over not bringing teachers to the table at all before making the decision. The School Board plans to vote on the proposed schedule at its next meeting on June 26.
“Just because we’ve heard from teachers for years about workload and planning time, we can’t assume anything,” Reed said. “This might be one of those times we want to over-communicate.”
So far, that has not been the case in regards to the new schedule proposal, according to Kimberly Adams, the president of the Fairfax Education Association, a union representing more than 5,000 school employees.
“We spoke with Dan Parris just 24 hours prior to the first presentation on the proposed schedule change [on May 28],” Adams said. “The teacher voice was not in the room for the first six months of that conversation.”
Adams and Steve Greenburg, president of another union, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, both are supportive of the goal of establishing full-day Mondays for elementary schools. But Adams is worried over the breakneck pace of implementation should the School Board vote to make the change for the next school year.
“Though there are a lot of us who want to get it done, there are also a lot of obstacles to overcome,” Adams said.
To try to address these concerns, the school system is sending out a survey to all elementary teachers and parents this week to gauge support for the proposal. Still, Parris cautioned the School Board of the dangers of moving too quickly on the plan.
“I think the organization believes it can happen, but as much as I want it go well, there will be some rough spots in the road,” Parris said. “If we could have done this with more engagement, then we would have. It would have cleared the path.”