BRADENTON, Fla. - Five years ago, Manatee schools started releasing students early one day of the week, every Wednesday, to give teachers more training and planning time. Soon after, Pinellas followed, and this year Hillsborough schools joined in with early release days on Mondays. Now, five years later, some Manatee school officials are reconsidering the whole idea.
"The reasons we did this are not there anymore. We need to take the time to look at it in a better way and get more time on task for our young people," says Manatee County School Board Chairman Harry Kinnan.
Kinnan has asked the district to give early release days a second look, and parent Bethany Lynch agrees.
"I think [they] should reconsider. It's a hardship, especially for working parents. What do they do with their kids after that time?" she says.
Bethany is a mother of two young children, a 4-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl. Both of her kids attend Braden River Elementary School. Her youngest is in the preschool program that dismisses earlier than the rest of the school.
"I have my son in preschool I pick up early, then I come here again to get my daughter," says Bethany.
Manatee students are dismissed about two hours early on Wednesdays. Each of the other four days of the week they attend school about an extra 20 minutes each day.
Bethany says, "It doesn't make sense. We are used to having children in school the whole day, every day."
The move made sense to school district officials and the teachers' union five years ago.
"I don't think students benefit when teachers don't have time. They need to plan," says Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association. "There will never be enough planning times for teachers. The accountability eats away time to plan for quality lessons."
In a survey issued by the Manatee County school district, about 2/3 of parents say they support the early release day, they do not see it as an inconvenience, and they would like to see the modified instructional week continue.
The same district report shows during the 2010-2011 school year a minimum of 2,505 teachers each reportedly earned 38 hours of in-service credit during the Modified Instruction Week participation, for a total of 95,190 hours district-wide. District officials estimate the same amount of professional development would have cost the district $1.5 million if held outside the allotted time made available by the early release day on Wednesday.
But Bethany says she thinks teachers need to manage their time more efficiently. "I would think they have a lot of planning time when kids are at recess, fine arts. There are times throughout the day they can get their planning done."
Manatee school officials say they will have to set that workshop soon so they can decide the new schedule for the new school year by the end of May.
The teachers' union president says under the current schedule Manatee teachers receive about six hours of planning a week, plus an additional two hours every other week for a total of 29 planning hours a month. And that does not include another four hours for training.
Pinellas and Hillsborough school officials say they plan to continue with their district's early release days.