Huntsville City Schools urges parents to reach out to legislators to keep calendar authority local

Huntsville
Data pix.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Local control of school calendars is expected to face a battle during the upcoming Alabama legislative session. The Huntsville City School system is speaking out against the proposal saying its not beneficial for the whole state.

"It would insist that we don't start before Labor Day and we end before Memorial Day," said Huntsville School Board President, Elisa Ferrell.

Business and tourism industry advocates say making summers longer will bring more money to the state. While summer break would be longer, the proposed calendar eliminates fall and spring break.

"That is a substantial loss of time off. Our teachers need that to rejuvenate. Our students need that. Our fall break and spring break are in place because they help attendance when students get fatigued," said Ferrell.

Huntsville City Schools posted to social media on Tuesday urging parents to reach out to state legislators and express their concerns about mandating the school calendar and extending instructional time.

"We are hearing that Rep. Hurst and Senator Sessions may include a provision to add 2 hours to the day to make up for the lost break time. This is not in the best interest of our children or teachers," the post read.

Similar legislation was introduced for the 2017-2018 school year but did not get pushed through.

Huntsville City Schools asked for help and listed the following points as to why parents should urge state legislators to "Please Leave Our Calendar Authority Local. L.O.C.A.L."

Possible Future School Hours (proposed start/end time with 8 hr. instructional day):

  • Elementary – 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Middle School/Jr. H.S. – 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • High School – 8:30 a.m. – 5:40 p.m.

Early Elementary:

  • Our early elementary students will not be able to focus for 8 hours in a classroom. Lack of focus and fatigue will give rise to irritability and behavior issues, causing problems in the classroom and disrupting learning.
  • Our upper-level students will also start to lose focus after long class periods. The higher math curriculum takes a while to sink in; it requires presentation, practice, and repetition. The time for repetition will be shortened, and the comprehension of the students will drop, causing a drop in grades.
  • Our early elementary children are also going to get hungry more than once during an eight-hour day. We already provide breakfast and lunch in some schools. A mid-afternoon snack or small meal will become necessary for our youngest students but will be cost-prohibitive for the school system.
  • There will not be a break in the second semester of the proposed 2020/2021 school calendar. Students/Teachers will return from the holiday break on Jan. 4th and will go all the way through to May 28th without a break.

Staffing:

  • If we ask our staff to teach for 10 more hours a week, our personnel cost would go up. An eight-hour day would add two additional hours, thus adding a 25% increase to teacher costs. Teachers already spend a considerable number of hours preparing, grading, and planning after school. Increased salaries would increase retirement benefits, causing more financial hardship to the state. Can the state budget allow for the additional salary or retirement payments required across all the school systems?
  • Teacher retention will become a more profound problem. Our veteran teachers will choose to retire rather than teach a longer day and long stretches of teaching without a break – this will cause a decrease in morale.
  • Absenteeism for staff will be on the rise because of fatigue. We will have increased substitute teacher costs, if we are able to find people willing to substitute in the current shortage.

Athletics and Extracurricular:

  • Extracurricular programs that practice after school will suffer participation losses. If high school gets out at 5:30pm instead of 3:30pm, the student-athletes who practice for three hours will not get done with practice until 8:30pm, after dinner, and with little time left to do their homework. The same is true for band, theater, JROTC, and other extracurricular activities (STEM, Robotics, Cyber, Greenpower, etc.). Robotics season is a short one and they must cram a lot of practice in a short window of time. If they can’t start until 5:30pm after school, our STEM programs, like Robotics, GreenPower and Cyber Security, will suffer. These are the programs that attracted businesses like Polaris, Toyota and Mazda to our community. Undermining them will hurt local business.
  • Small school systems who can’t afford field lights for baseball, softball and soccer will have to sacrifice the sport. Most middle schools don’t have field lights so middle school programs will suffer if a school system can’t afford to add $150,000 - $200,000 of lights and poles for the fields. Varsity basketball games will start at 9:30pm. If our students play against Florence, they won't get home until 1:30-2:00am. Football faces the same travel issues.
  • Those student-athletes who stay with the sport and practice till 8:30pm will see academic regression. NCAA has a chart of GPA and ACT scores required to be considered for incoming student-athletes. The lower the student GPA, the higher the ACT score needed to qualify. If an exceptional student-athlete, who may be on the bubble academically, loses study and homework time at night, it may cause them to miss out on a college scholarship. A mandated calendar could flow up, harming the recruitment pool in the athletics programs at the major universities and colleges in our state.
  • Student-athletes whose parents are concerned about their ability maintain their grades and graduate because of the long day and lack of study time will pull them from athletics, harming those programs, and student morale.

Academic Achievement:

  • If student-athletes leave the AP program, and we lose students in our upper-level classes, our reputation will take a hit nationally. National School rankings by US News and World Report and Newsweek, along with lesser unscientific surveys like Niche and Great Schools, use things like AP enrollment to grade schools. If our AP enrollment drops, our school grades will drop. People who are thinking of coming here for the many new exciting employment opportunities, rely heavily on those surveys when choosing whether they should move to Northern AL. They will think of their families first and foremost before they commit to a move. We must maintain and advance the excellence we have. We want the best to come to our community! This could have an economic impact on our region.
  • Fatigued students don’t perform well on tests. High Value tests like the PSAT (given on a school day and the basis for National Merit Scholars for 11th graders), ACT (the current measure schools are judged on by the ALSDE), NAEP, PISA, STAR reading will all see lower grades from tired students
  • Advanced Students/Dual Enrolment students will not be able to graduate early because the first semester wouldn’t end until Jan. 22nd

Operations:

  • Utility and maintenance costs will go up if we have to heat/cool/light our buildings for longer periods of time. Currently, we use advanced systems to monitor temperature and electricity to get our costs down as low as possible. Increased operations costs remove available funds from personnel and cause larger class sizes. Larger class sizes make it more difficult for staff to differentiate learning (meet every student at their level and move them forward with individualized plans).
  • Security and custodial costs will increase with a longer school day. If a school has an after school event, custodians won't be able to clean until late, making them bump up to a graveyard shift pay scale. Custodians would not be able to clean Gyms and other high school facilities until after games are complete, it could be midnight before cleaning can begin.
  • Buses will have to travel during nighttime rush hour, increasing travel time, as well as the risk of accidents and physical harm to students.

Everyone:

  • Absenteeism for students will be on the rise because of fatigue. We are making tremendous progress in lowering our chronic absenteeism rate. With increased student fatigue, we will have more chronic absenteeism, hurting our state report card grades. Students will be attending school the day after Thanksgiving and there won’t be any breaks during the school year – all vacations will be limited to summer break only.
  • We have students who come from financially challenged families. They work in the afternoons to help with their family’s needs. Those students’ fast food restaurant paycheck goes towards their family groceries and their younger sibling’s tennis shoes. Other students working in the afternoon are saving for college expenses. Extending the day will cause our students to miss out on those job opportunities, and will harm their futures, and in some instances, hurt their families. It has the potential to create more dropouts.
  • Daycares that follow public school calendars will have to adjust their curriculum, hours, staffing, etc. – this will create an increase in weekly pay for childcare services.
  • School nurses and student medical needs will increase due to giving medications at more frequent intervals with a longer school day. This will put more medical tasks in the hands of teachers/nurses.

Additional notes of interest:

  • Possibly mandating 180 school days
  • Students would start school Sept. 8th
  • The first holiday of the school year would be Veterans Day, in November (the only holiday required by law)
  • There would only be one day for the Thanksgiving Holiday (students would return to school the day after Thanksgiving)
  • Semester exams would be given in January (after the holiday break)
  • Students/Teachers would begin the second semester on Jan. 4th and would go all the way to May 28th with a break/holiday

The bill is expected to be officially proposed this week during the legislative session. WHNT News 19 has reached out to the bills sponsors, we'll keep you updated with their response.