Karen McMahan has an article in the latest Carolina Journal on the debate of the length of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools elementary school day. Because of the local interest, it appears below in its entirety:
CHARLOTTE — Two years after Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools added 45 minutes to the elementary school day systemwide, parents and teachers opposed to the longer school day increasingly have grown frustrated over a lack of progress in getting district officials to reconsider the current seven-hour day.
Indeed, school district officials have dug in. Even though Superintendent Heath Morrison promised to work with concerned parents soon after he took his current position in 2012, he has not recommended any changes to the schedule. Moreover, the district’s chief of staff reportedly has blocked teachers and parents who oppose the new schedule from expressing their concerns at public meetings.
CMS announced the expanded schedule in 2011 without soliciting public input. Soon after, a group of concerned parents formed Child First School Schedules to address worries about the negative effects of the longer day on children and family life, particularly when many magnet school children would arrive home after 6 p.m.
CFSS circulated an online petition in September 2011 to seek community input and action on the late-bell schedule. Comments from more than 1,000 respondents showed that children were too fatigued from the longer day and travel times to do homework, spend quality time with their families, or participate in extracurricular activities.
Susan Plaza, a CFSS member, told Carolina Journal that her group has worked closely on the matter with the Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina, a nonpartisan trade association, hoping their combined efforts might yield better results.
The school board initially said the schedule change was needed to save busing costs. Plaza said her group made a proposal in February 2012 that would save $1 million in transportation costs and resolve the late-bell schedule, but the board rejected the plan. CFSS then developed five additional alternatives.
Morrison promised to work with the parents group and establish a task force last year. But Morrison and the school board did not recommend changes for the 2013-14 budget year.
CMS asked the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing urban school districts, to review CMS transportation research and make recommendations that might work for the district and CFSS parents.
The review included an on-site visit to CMS at the end of July during which the Great Schools review team would interview staff, teachers, parent groups, and other stakeholders, according to the contract obtained by CJ. The contract for $18,000 did not include the starting or ending dates for the work to be performed or when the report would be provided to Morrison.
Plaza told CJ that her group prepared for a July 31 meeting with the review team to provide background on the negative effects of the schedule on students, parents, and teachers, with a focus on the transportation solutions the parents group had developed.
Instead, Plaza said the review team centered the discussion around the benefits of the longer day and the positive impacts it has on low-income students eligible for the federal free and reduced-price school lunch program.
The parents group also asked CTANC President Judy Kidd to attend the meeting so she could present the teacher survey results. Kidd was not allowed to speak, Plaza said.
A week before the site visit, Plaza said her group had asked the district’s chief of staff, Earnest Winston, if Kidd also could attend the review team’s meeting with teachers. Winston never contacted Kidd, and when she entered the meeting room, she was asked to leave. Kidd told CJ she was told, “they wanted to keep the crowd down.”
Plaza said the meeting included no elementary teachers and only one middle-school teacher. The other attendees were parents, who told Plaza that “their principal asked them to attend because they like the longer day/late bell,” she said.
Several sources told CJ that Winston had sent a memo to principals asking them to invite only parents and teachers attend who liked the late-bell schedule. Winston told CJ that he had called principals, but denied asking only for supporters.
Plaza said she was “very disappointed in how the meetings were conducted,” and believes “it was a very insincere effort to bring closure to this issue. … It seems quite clear that CMS did not want the voice of elementary teachers to be heard, unless they liked the bell schedule.”
The problems caused by the late-bell and longer day schedule have topped the agendas of every superintendent teacher advisory committee, teacher advisory committee, and faculty advisory committee for the past two years, Kidd said.
In an email response to Plaza’s complaint about the meetings obtained by CJ, Winston defended the review team’s actions and denied any attempt to skew the perception that most parents and teachers liked the schedule. “[T]eachers at all levels were invited to participate, including a number of elementary school teachers who did in fact meet with the CGCS team,” the email said.
Winston also told CJ in late September that the council’s report was expected sometime in September. But the Charlotte Observer reported Sept. 25 that the report would be delayed until this month.