Written by Betsy Abraham Thursday, 26 September 2013 00:00
When Park Avenue school parents heard that the Board of Education was considering changing a schedule change for the second time this school year, they decided they had had enough.
“The last bell change came out only two weeks prior to school starting,” Marie Guilfn, president of the Park Avenue PTA said. “It got even more disruptive when I was told there would be a second bell change. It was never clearly presented.”
The first bell change was adopted back in May, as part of the budget. When administrators were putting the budget together earlier this year, they looked for different ways to cut costs in order to meet the two percent tax caps. One
method, used by other districts in Long Island, was changing the bell schedule. Park Avenue and Dryden Street have usually had the same time of arrival. But by starting the day at Park Avenue later, the district would be able to stagger the buses. By using five less buses (17 instead of 22), the district has a $168,000 savings. The district chose to change the schedule at Park because Dryden has a split session pre-K.
However, the bell schedule change results in less instructional time for the first and second graders at Park Avenue. Teachers expressed concern over the loss of classroom time and several options were presented to the administration to consider. The idea the administration chose to consider, was the last option and one teachers' found least favorable: extending the school day.
When word got out that the board and administration were considering implementing another bell change as soon as Nov. 1, and changing the Park Avenue school day to run 9:55 a.m. to 3:55 p.m, parents were frustrated and upset.
“I was shocked. I was really surprised that at this age, they were going to do something like this that would affect children and their families so much,” said parent and PTA Corresponding Secretary, Stacy Turner.
Guilfn called an emergency meeting last Wednesday and concerned parents packed the Park auditorium, asking questions and voicing their anxieties. Dozens of parents also came out to the Board of Education meeting on Thursday,
Sept.19, to urge the board not to change the schedule again. 150 parents signed a petition and 230 signed a letter, asking the Board of Education to change the schedule so that bus drop off occurred no later than 8:30 a.m. (so students could participate in the Universal Breakfast Program) and that the instructional time begin no later than 9.m. The letter, as well as many parents in the meeting, also pointed out that elementary students learn better earlier in the morning, and that a later release time would mean that participation in after-school programs or play would be limited, if at all. Parents also pointed out that if the school day ends at 3:55, there is a high chance their children won’t get home until around 5 p.m. As winter draws near and the days get darker earlier, parents voiced concerns over the safety of their children and if crossing guards would be available so late in the afternoon.
Many parents have already made huge adjustments to get their child to the bus stop or dropped off later, some even paying for their child to go to daycare before catching the bus. Teachers too are affected. Several teachers have second jobs or are furthering their education. Extending the school day would make that much harder, if at all possible.
The Board of Education has not yet made a decision on whether or not to change the schedule and said the bell change was just a rumor.
“No decisions have been made,” Board President Rodney Caines said.
The parent’s frustration over the bell schedule change is a symptom of a bigger problem: lack of communication. Many parents expressed frustration over not being properly informed over the changes, whether it was the first bell schedule change (to which the majority were informed of by mail two weeks before the start of the semester), or the possibility of a second change. The language barrier is also a hurdle. A large majority of the district’s population speaks Spanish, (many others speak Haitian or Creole) yet many of the notices and important flyers that go home only in English. At board meetings, there is also no translator.
“It all boils down to a lack of communication,” Turner said. “You have to have the consideration to include the Hispanic population.”