Four-day school week concerns some Peach County parents

The school year in Peach County, which starts next Tuesday, will have fewer days but the same instructional time, Superintendent Susan Clark said Monday.

The school system announced Friday it was adopting a four-day school week this year to save a tad more than $400,000 in operations and transportation costs. Though the buildings will be closed Mondays, teachers will be able to work from home. The school day will run from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. for elementary school students and 8:30 a.m.-3:45 p.m. for middle and high school students Tuesdays through Fridays.

“There were some misunderstandings about how we would do this,” Clark said. “I created that, but I didn’t mean to.”

Clark said she’s received a number of calls from parents about the four-day week, and they’ve been split on the issue.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see the community pull together and make plans for day care,” Clark said, adding that she knows Byron United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church and others are planning for day care. “It’s a wonderful outcome of what could be a bad situation. I find that gratifying.”

Rick Ogletree, whose son will attend Peach County High, said the day care issue doesn’t affect him, but he understands Clark’s predicament.

“Things happen so quickly these days, and in the short term I know she’s saved 39 people’s jobs,” Ogletree said. “We as parents sometimes don’t see the whole picture. You have to hope that she and the school board are doing their best to make sound decisions. They have state and federal mandates to follow and just can’t wave a magic wand and make everything hunky-dory.”

Alecia Lavitt of Fort Valley, whose son will be in the third grade at Hunt Elementary, said the late announcement caught her and others off guard. “What are we to do? My husband and I are working parents and it’s hard to find day care in Fort Valley,” Lavitt said. “There’s hardly any time to get a plan together. And if churches are going to offer day care, that will be another cost incurred by families that can hardly afford it.” Lavitt said she’s also concerned the shortened week may not afford teachers and students time to make enough academic progress and help the system make AYP next year.

School principals can work with teachers to determine how Mondays will be spent, Clark said, “and we’re being as flexible as we possibly can to let our teachers get their hours in.” Teachers can work four 10-hour days or five eight-hour days to hit 40 hours weekly.

Clark said House Bill 193, passed by the General Assembly this year and signed May 4 by Gov. Sonny Perdue, gives school systems the ability to operate a 180-day school year “or the equivalent thereof” as determined by the state Department of Education.

With the shortened week, Peach schools will operate 144 days but will meet the same number of instructional hours as a 180-day schedule, she said. The system is using a formula from the Department of Education.

“There is no issue with the credits a student earns,” she said. “Our school days were already longer, but House Bill 193 gives us lots of flexibility.”

Part of the misunderstanding of the new schedule, Clark said, is the county perhaps being unfamiliar with people working at home.

“I’m sure somebody will see a teacher in a store on a Monday and wonder if they’re working,” she said. “But everybody’s working full time.”

School system spokeswoman Sara Mason said Monday she had received numerous calls from parents after they heard a radio report that classes would start Aug. 3. “It’s still Tuesday, Aug. 4,” Mason said. “The main thing parents want to know is when is the first day of school.”