EDITORIAL: Drastic school calendar change warrants more discussion

Jan. 08, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

The Lee County Board of Education is considering switching to a year-round calendar for elementary and middle schools. The board is expected to vote on the pivotal change tonight following a 5:30 p.m. special public hearing at McLeod Auditorium at Lee County High School.

This ordeal begs the questions: Why haven't there been public hearings to this point, considering the large number of families who will be involved? And why is the school board in such a rush to have a vote on a year-round calendar?

The year-round schedule is not unique to at least some Lee County students, as Tramway Elementary is on that rotation now. 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.

It has been said that such a schedule improves the 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.

This thought process certainly has merit and is worthy of discussion, albeit careful thought before rushing into such a life-changing kind of schedule.

There are other sides of the issue that should be discussed at length. For instance:

* How many other school systems operate on a year-round calendar? And how has the calendar worked for those systems?

* How difficult would it be for those families with children in elementary, middle and high school, with two different schedules in play?

* How about those families who would have difficulty with work and vacations under a year-round schedule?

* How about those families who already have summer plans in play with little warning of this change?

The Herald, through our Facebook page, asked individuals what they thought of the proposed change. Here is a thought-provoking response from one individual: "Not for the upcoming year. The decision seems rushed. I think discussing this topic at this time should be for the 2014-2015 year and not the 2013-2014 year."

The poster listed several other concerns, which are as follows:

"1. Having a HS student on traditional and a younger student on year-round is tough for a family. 2. Supposedly one reason for the change is based on test scores from Tramway, but Bullock is as high or higher than Tramway from what I have heard. 3. Would it cost more financially to cool the schools in our summer heat? 4. It is throwing a wrench in a lot of families' summer plans that have already been paid for and planned for this summer based on the traditional schedule. 5. Having only one meeting that is at 5:30 in the afternoon doesn't seem right. I am trying to get off work to make the meeting because it is important to me. Why wouldn't such an important meeting be held in a larger venue such as the civic center and later in the evening to allow more of our parents to get there?"

The 5:30 p.m. time for public comment period, just before the school board is expected to consider the proposal, seems ludicrous. If the school board is serious about allowing for public comment, it should be done at a more convenient time that at a time when many parents are just getting off of work, or are at work, with some needing to pick up their children from after-school care and then having a proper dinner period.

It would be hoped that the school board would give public comment due consideration. That doesn't seem possible when a vote could take place literally minutes after the comments. Our school board is composed of educated individuals, who should realize that a proper study of these public comments and concerns are necessary before making such an important decision.

It's too late to change the time of the public hearing, although the school board has the option of holding another session during which more people might be able to attend.

It's not too late for the school board to do the right thing and delay voting on the proposal until all comments are given proper study and consideration.