Half-days often headache days
Popular with teachers and students, short days can put working parents in a bind.
By TOM MARSHALL
Published April 16, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - Half-day. It's a phrase that brings joy to the hearts of schoolchildren, and dread to their parents.
Some School Board members think the term may be getting too much use in Hernando County.
The district has 13 early-dismissal days in its calendar this year, and has scheduled the same number for next year. No school system in the Tampa Bay area has nearly as many, and Pasco County schools have none at all.
"I think it's too dangerous right now; society has changed," said Hernando board member John Sweeney. "I don't think it's wise to send 12-year-olds home to an empty house. I think that outweighs any professional development opportunity."
District officials say six of the shortened days are used for semester exam grading, with the remainder scheduled monthly for professional development.
Students are typically released two hours earlier than their regular dismissal, said spokesman Roy Gordon. "It's in the teachers' contract for staff development," he added. "It's a negotiated item."
In addition to the 13 early-release days, Hernando has scheduled four full days for professional development, including a state-mandated session Oct. 19.
Under state law, all public schools must provide the hourly equivalent of 180 school days of instruction.
Brian Phillips, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association union, said the early-release days are useful for both teachers and children "because it gives teachers an opportunity to become better teachers."
Board member Dianne Bonfield, a longtime Hernando elementary school teacher, agreed.
"There's a lot of information sharing that needs to go on, (with) 10 teachers at the same grade level who don't all have the same common planning time," she said. "Those days are very busy."
But Sweeney, a parent who served as a teacher at Powell Middle School, said the shortened days pose a danger where parents are working.
"The reality is a lot of kids are going home to empty houses, and that's not a good thing," he said. "Having taught and been part of the training sessions, they're really not worth the risk. Not a lot of learning takes place on those half-days."
Parent Bill Korn, chairman of the School Advisory Committee at Hernando High School, said combining early-release days might allow more meaningful professional development, as well as making life easier for parents.
"I think the parents would rather have the full day (off) rather than have to leave work and pick them up, or take them to day care," Korn said.
Other districts have struck a middle ground on the issue.
Citrus County is planning eight early-release days for grading exams during the next school year, plus three professional development or conference days. Pinellas has six early-release days and five professional days, while Hillsborough this year scheduled three early-release days and two professional days.
Only Pasco County has avoided early-release days on principle, scheduling four full days for professional development.
Pasco assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose said half-days were "very disruptive" for parents, and also made it difficult for teachers to accomplish much in the classroom on a shortened schedule.
"If you're a high school teacher, for instance, either you will see half your students that day, or see all of your students for 30 minutes," she said.
Hernando board member Sandra Nicholson favors doing away with early-release days altogether.
"I just don't see it as a true benefit for the students," she said. "We've got four professional days during the year, and I think that's sufficient."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.
School district 2007-08 calendars
Early release days