The calendar for the coming school year was a major topic of discussion at this month’s Macon County Board of Education meeting, as the board was confronted with both the new state mandate for a longer 185-day school calendar and challenges to its already approved alternative calendar.
Sabrina Hawkins, a mother of three children at Highlands School, spoke to the board of her displeasure with the non-traditional school calendar for the 2011-2012 school year. In April, the county was granted a special waiver by the State Board of Education which allowed it to bypass the state-mandated start date of Aug. 25 and instead begin classes three weeks earlier, on Aug. 4.
In a petition filed last month with the State Office of Administrative Hearings, Hawkins and a statewide organization, Save Our Summers N.C., have challenged the legality of the calendar waiver approved for the district. Hawkins told the board that she took issue with the process by which the calendar was vetted and approved. “I’m greatly concerned that your decision was made in haste with no time to make proper judgement on the effects that [the calendar] could have on our children, our families and our community,” said Hawkins, reading from a prepared statement.
Hawkins then accused Superintendent Dan Brigman of purposely manipulating the process of calendar selection to push the alternative calendar through without substantial review by parents, teachers or the community as a whole. “I believe information was withheld until the last possible second and then rushed and processed through to keep public outcry at bay,” she said. “Maybe there is another explanation, but I don’t see it.”
“I believe information was withheld until the last possible second and then rushed and processed through to keep public outcry at bay. Maybe there is another explanation, but I don’t see it.” — Sabrina Hawkins, parent
Hawkins told the board that she thought both teachers and others who sit on the various superintendent advisory councils – including a staff council, a student council, a parents council and a business community council – may have been confused when they voted in support of the calendar, thinking that it would not be implemented until 2012-2013. She referred to emails, meeting minutes and other documents obtained through a open-records request which indicate that when the calendar issue was first being broached in the fall of 2010, it was in reference to the 2012-2013 academic year.
At a Nov. 18 meeting of the Parent Advisory Council, meeting minutes do indicate that Brigman told the group that, if approved, the calendar “would not be implemented until the summer of 2012.” At a Feb. 17 meeting with the same group, however, the minutes reflect a discussion of an early-start alternative calendar for the next academic year.
Hawkins also referred to emails from school representatives in which comments from teachers indicate a preference for delaying the start of the non-traditional calendar until 2012-2013. For example, an email from the teacher representative from Franklin High School dated Feb. 23 states that the faculty supports the non-traditional calendar. “However, many would prefer it to be implemented in 2012-2013,” wrote the teacher.
Questioning the process by which various calendar options were presented to teachers, Hawkins suggested that had teachers had all options at once, they might have voted differently. Ultimately, the majority of teachers in the county voted in support the non-traditional calendar that was ultimately adopted over another traditional calendar option (249 in favor to 150 against).
In addition to the possible confusion among teachers and the advisory councils, Hawkins says that the school board was not given adequate time to consider all the impacts of the alternative calendar, noting that the final vote on the issue on Feb. 29, the day before the waiver application was due, resulted in a split board. “It was a rushed decision,” she said.
According to Hawkins, no district in the state has ever attempted a district-wide waiver for a non-traditional calendar for educational purposes. In addition, she argued that despite the intention of the waiver exception, the district’s motivation was to regain local control of the calendar and not actually for educational purposes.
Besides moving the start date to Aug. 4, allowing the a first semester end before the Christmas break, the new calendar also includes three intercession periods during the year, including one each semester and one in the summer, which will be used for remediation and enrichment.
Hawkins concluded her remarks by asking the board to reconsider the calendar.
Later in the meeting, in response to a question from a local media representative, schools attorney, John Henning Jr., advised that board members refrain from answering questions about the calendar until after the administrative hearing on the issue. “Because the administrative process is maybe one that the board will become involved in, I wouldn’t suggest answering any questions on it at this point,” said Henning.
On Tuesday, in a statement from the office of the superintendent read, “Dr. Brigman would like to clarify that our non-traditional calendars will remain intact.”