Elementary school task force to report in June on options for longer day in Montgomery

As Montgomery County has debated a proposal to delay the opening bells of high school to 8:15 a.m. — giving teenagers more time for sleep — a district-created study group has discussed potential changes to elementary school hours.

It has asked: If the elementary school day were extended for another 30 minutes, how would the extra time best be used?

School officials say the study group’s report is now expected in June, when Montgomery’s school board also will discuss the broader question of changing bell times.

The early hours of the high school day have been an issue in Montgomery for more than a year, and in October Superintendent Joshua P. Starr offered a proposal to start the high school day 50 minutes later. High school now starts at 7:25 a.m.

But Starr’s proposal included changes for students in other grades: Middle schoolers would start the day at 7:45 a.m., 10 minutes earlier than now. Elementary school students would keep the same starting times, but go 30 minutes later in the afternoon.

If the elementary school day were lengthened, the extra time could be used for foreign language, technology or perhaps more art, music or physical education, school officials have said. The study group was asked to examine such options, gather data and collect feedback.

Parent Frances Frost, a group member, said the possibilities considered have been wide-ranging. “It ran the gamut from extra lunch and extra recess to academic support and foreign language,” she said.

One idea was to extend each class of the school day by five minutes; another was a longer science block. “Everything was on the table,” Frost said.

The task force also includes Debra Berner, executive assistant to the chief operating officer; Marcia Vogel, a supervisor in the office of communications; two special education paraeducators, Israel Martinez-Gonzalez and Debra T. Sanders; two principals, Melissa Brunson and Sue Barranger; three teachers, Lisa Adkins, Michelle Marquardt, Mary Hawkins-Jones; Charlene Parilla, from the office of special education programs; and several school system administrators or staff.

Not everyone supports a longer school day.

At community meetings, some parents have expressed concerns about the proposal’s effect on the well-being of the district’s youngest children, saying a longer school day would limit after-school hours available for play, outdoor time or extracurricular activities.

Two online petitions have requested that school days not extend beyond 3:30 p.m.

Starr has pointed out that Montgomery has the state’s ­second-shortest elementary school day, at six hours and 15 minutes.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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