Public hearing will be held Tuesday on proposed year-round calendar

Jan. 06, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

A major debate about school scheduling will come to a head Tuesday, when the Lee County Board of Education is planning to vote on moving elementary and middle schools to a year-round calendar.

The vote will occur after a special public hearing at 5:30 p.m. in McLeod Auditorium at Lee County High School, at which many residents are expected to speak.

Speakers who sign up beforehand will be given three minutes each to make their case either for or against the proposal that was announced during the school board's December meeting.

Officials said they they plan to let everyone who wants to speak get the chance to, and that the hearing will likely go beyond its scheduled 6 p.m. end time.

"The intent of the meeting is for public input, so as long as there's somebody there that wants to voice their opinion, we will most likely give them that opportunity," John Bonardi, the board's vice chairman, said earlier this week. Superintendent Jeff Moss said the hearing would absolutely go as long as needed — and that he expects a large showing that will take the hearing well into the night.

Speakers will only be asked to stop if they go over the time limit or violate another board policy, the full list of which can be found online at http://bit.ly/Wo4qvN.

Even though the recommendation from the school's Calendar Committee passed that body of parents and staff unanimously (albeit with several abstentions), many other parents have said such a change doesn't have their or their children's best interests at heart and is also being done too quickly.

If the school board approves the recommendation as is, classes will start this July for every student from Pre-K to 8th grade. School would be in for nine weeks, followed by a three-week break, and a year would consist of four nine-week sessions.

Summer vacation would be four weeks long instead of eight, which many educators and parents at Tramway Elementary School — currently the only year-round school in the district — have said improves quality of education by not giving students enough time to forget material over the summer, which in turn allows teachers to spend the beginning of the year focusing on new lessons instead of reviewing.

Tramway is open to everyone in Lee County and has far more students than the average Lee County elementary school. The high demand is possibly related to the school's academic performance — its students have some of the best test scores in the district for every demographic the state measures — or to the calendar, with breaks that are more frequent and more uniform in length.

But some parents are unhappy with the relatively late notice about the proposed calendar change, as well as with the assumption that a schedule that helps some should be forced onto all students, regardless of how it might affect other non-school activities or family life.

Sarah Barry, who has two sons at West Lee Middle School, said she plans to speak against the calendar change on Tuesday. But in case she can't make it, she said, she also sent a transcript of her speech to all members of the school board.

"My son is a Boy Scout and is going for his Eagle Scout and has been planning on attending a camp in July since last October," she wrote in one part of the email, which she also provided to The Herald. "His inability to attend due to school will make it harder for him to reach his goal of Eagle Scout. In addition, we have been planning a trip to go to Boston in August for two years for a family reunion which we would have to cancel."

People who want to speak at the meeting can sign up directly beforehand, from 5-5:25 p.m. There will also be a short presentation from school officials about the proposal before the hearing is opened up to the public.