Brevard County school officials consider moving early-release days to Friday
Officials hope change will help teachers who work full days on early-release
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Early-release days will be moving from Wednesdays to Fridays if the Brevard County school district gets its way, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.
At one of the first of many negotiation sessions between the school district and Brevard Federation of Teachers union, district leaders proposed making the switch in time for the upcoming school year.
River Lewis, director of Professional Standards & Labor Relations for Brevard Public Schools, said making the "time-sensitive" change would benefit high school students who are dual enrolled in courses at Eastern Florida State College.
"They’re missing out on classes on Wednesday," he told the union Monday afternoon, because high school class periods are shortened on early-release days, which were implemented about two years ago.
Eastern Florida doesn't have classes on Friday, so dual enrollment students wouldn't be pulled away from their high school classes.
Because teachers are currently required to work the full day on early-release days, Lewis hopes shifting to Fridays will also help teachers, so "they’re not worried about lesson plans for the next day, they can get things done, then go home for the weekend."
He expects it would also please families and reduce absences on Fridays.
"Our hope is that it will help families out there ‘cause kids get pulled out of school on a routine basis," said Lewis.
The possible change has collected mixed opinions on the union's Facebook page from teachers who'd like to keep early-release days on Wednesdays and others who prefer Fridays.
Parent and Oak Park Elementary teacher Marcus Hochman, who attended Monday's bargaining meeting, would like the district to conduct a survey of teachers and parents before they take any action.
Union President Dan Bennett told Florida Today that moving early-release days to Fridays "seems to make sense, especially for the needs of dual enrollment. However, it's not an urgent need."
Instead, he countered with other demands regarding early-release days.
The union, Bennett told Lewis and district officials, wants to eliminate the hour of professional development on early-release days and allow teachers to use collected comp time for those days.
As things stand now, it's at the discretion of principals whether or not teachers take part in an hour of professional development one early-release day per month. But union leaders argue that's valuable time teachers could use for planning.
"It's less professional development than it is more work dropped on teachers to get something done," said Bennett. "Professional development has just turned into, 'Hey English department, make a presentation next Wednesday. We need it.'"
Union Vice President Vanessa Skipper, who also teaches English at Cocoa High School, said she'd rather take part in professional development specific to her needs, rather than general presentations for the whole staff.
Lewis said he would need to discuss eliminating professional development with the school board and feared doing so would reduce principals' face time with their teachers.
Principals already have it in their power to call two faculty meetings per week, though, Skipper replied.
Lewis anticipates permitting teachers to use comp time on early-release days would be a hard-sell to the board as well. He told the union there was concern about public perception of how much teachers are working.
"Parking lots might be empty or cars will be gone, and the community would not be so accepting of us now allowing teachers to have comp time and be off the premises," he said. "Using of the comp time is going to very difficult for us to agree to."
Union leaders said it was a slap in the face, reminiscent of the former superintendent, Brian Binggeli, under whom employee morale took a hit.
"It’s just a touch of an insult when the public is concerned about are we really working full time and getting all of our work done," said Bennett. "Actually what we hear from the public is that the public kind of appreciates what we do and knows that we work hard.
"This superintendent (Desmond Blackburn) is in tune to his teachers and knows that teachers are professionals and that we’re getting the job done," he added.
Using comp time — which teachers earn for working outside their normal hours at parent conferences, open house nights and other events — on early-release days would actually ensure teachers don't lose time with students, Skipper said. Teachers would be able to schedule appointments once kids have left for the day instead of requesting a substitute to fill in for them on regularly scheduled days.
Right now, teachers have to use sick days to take time off on early-release days.
While Chris Givens, a music teacher at MILA Elementary on Merritt Island, hasn't had any trouble at her school, where she's worked for 32 years, she thinks it's only fair that teachers be able to use comp time however they want.
"We should be able to use comp for whatever we want whenever we want it. We are professional adults," said Givens. "Many teachers want to schedule doctors appointments on the short days as not to miss the time with our students, but we are not supposed to do that on short days. It's that kind of thing that makes us feel like children."
The union and the district will meet again Monday at school headquarters in Viera at 4 p.m.
Whether early-release days wind up on Wednesdays or Fridays, union leaders say eliminating professional development and allowing comp time on those days are most important.
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