Jan 29, 2024

LETTER: Writer questions benefits of Hays USD 489 in-service days

Posted Jan 29, 2024 12:00 PM

This past Monday, I attended my first USD 489 school board meeting. First, let me say, I have incredible respect and admiration for the USD 489 teachers. They are tasked with educating the youngest of our community and their influence has the potential to last a lifetime.

Prior to the Jan. 22 board meeting, I sent a respectful letter to each school board member, explaining my genuine concerns and ensuring they would not be blindsided by my public statements and inquiry.

Last July, the school board approved the new district calendar for the 2023-24 school year, which replaced traditional, half-day teacher in-services with nine, “full-day” in-services. These newly designed in-service periods occur on the first or second Monday of the month for every month of the school year. Such “full-day” in-service periods, consequently, result in “days off” for the students in the community. The previous, “half-day” in-services allowed students to attend class until roughly 1 p.m. Those who had no after-school care options could remain at school for a minimal cost. This structure allowed their parents to continue working on those in-service days. This year, the administration and school board decided it would be better to give students entire days off for their newly-crafted in-services. My concern is for the young families who do not have afterschool care options.

This new calendar change has caused parents to miss work, and, consequently, miss income. Those parents who do choose to work run the risk of leaving their children unsupervised at home, not to mention, students in the greatest need miss their free/reduced-cost breakfast and lunch on those days. Do I dare pose the question: “What are the high school students who are out of school doing during such days with limited-to-no supervision?” Would the district administrators and teachers themselves allow for such limited supervision in their own classrooms/buildings for more than a single minute? I doubt that is a risk they would be willing to take. ...

After my brief three minutes speaking to the school board, no response was given or explanation for the change from half days to full days. Those who live in Hays know that affordable day care, and most communities across the country, is almost nonexistent. Any time a young family has a child out of the traditional school hours, it is very disruptive to the parents who are working.

So, let’s add up the time in the school calendar year that the children are not in school:

· USD 489 calendar for 2023-24 has 196 available school days (i.e., 8/16/23 - 5/16/24).

· During that period, there are 23 full days and two half days off for various holidays (i.e., fall/spring/winter breaks, MLK day, Labor Day, etc.)

· This year there are an additional nine Mondays off for teacher in-service days for “collaborative planning.”

· This sums to roughly 33 total days that our children are not being educated in the classroom during this calendar school year. To state another way, that equates to 17 percent of the available school days students are not in the classroom.

Are all these breaks essential for learning? What metrics did the administration and the school board use to decide on this additional time out of the classroom? Do they have similar metrics to show the benefits of this schedule? Since the students are missing so much time on those Mondays, are the in-service agenda(s) available to the public?

Was there no other way this in-service time could be done and still allow students to remain in school?

It is no secret that since COVID, students across the country have began to lag behind and underperform compared to previous years. So why did the administration and school board approve nine additional days of no school for our children, while, simultaneously, causing additional disruptions in the workplace? I believe they were working on the 2024-25 calendar. … Does this calendar follow the same Mondays off? Has the administration and school board considered the hardship this is causing those parents who have no afterschool care? Has the school considered the economic impact local businesses feel with a shortage of work staff on such in-service days on Mondays?

It is my hope that the school board will put this on the agenda for the next meeting, Feb. 5, 2023. I plan on attending. Feel free to join me as a concerned parent. I hope they will publicly answer some of these questions. 

Don Tillman