Early school bell rings sour with parents

Work, baby-sitting plans affected by late news of Friendship Valley change

July 22, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

Mary Gemmill has nothing against Friendship Valley Elementary for changing school hours for next year. She just wishes she had known about it sooner -- perhaps before she built her work schedule around when she thought her two children would be getting home.

Beginning this fall, a school day at Friendship Valley will begin at 8 a.m. and end at 2: 15 p.m. The schedule is being moved up an hour from last year. While that decision was made in May, most parents have received no word of it.

A handful who found out by word of mouth are complaining.

"Had I known or at least had a heads-up, I wouldn't have signed up for part-time," said Gemmill, who gave up her full-time shift at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland so she could leave work at 3 p.m. and meet her two children when they arrived home -- presumably after 3: 15. "I just think it's been handled poorly," she said.

Curtis Schnorr, the district's elementary schools supervisor -- who was principal at Friendship Valley through this month -- said word of the change was accidentally left out of the school newsletter sent to homes the last day of school.

"I don't know how it escaped me," Schnorr said yesterday.

In retrospect, Schnorr said he wishes he had involved parents in discussions about the possible change. Those discussions began about two years ago.

The school is preparing to send postcards to parents explaining the new schedule within days.

"There are plenty of people who still don't know and it's very frustrating," said parent Jamie Linfield. She said parents are worried that young children will be waiting for buses or walking to school in the dark in winter months. The change also will affect her baby-sitting arrangements after school.

"I don't think anyone in this school system considers working parents," she said.

Friendship Valley becomes the earliest-opening school in the system. That distinction was previously held by Linton Springs Elementary, which opens at 8: 15.

Elmer A. Wolf Elementary is the only other school in the district altering its hours this fall, and the schedule there is changing by only 10 minutes -- from 8: 50-3: 05 to 9-3: 15.

The more substantial change at Friendship Valley is being carried out for several reasons, school administrators said. The opening of Cranberry Station Elementary -- which will operate on a 9-3: 15 schedule -- would have strained the supply of school buses available around Westminster if Friendship Valley had operated on an identical schedule.

Also, the school improvement team at Friendship Valley was as early as 1997 discussing moving up its day. In the past, said Schnorr, who served on the team, children would be waiting for school buses outside the school until 3: 45 p.m., meaning they could not begin their homework until later and teachers supervising them could not have afternoon planning time.

Vicki Anzmann, president of the parent-teacher organization at Friendship Valley, said parents are likely to be divided over the move. Some will like that their children have more daylight to enjoy the outdoors, she said.

"You're never going to please everyone," said Anzmann.

Pat Dorsey, Friendship Valley's new principal, defended the change this week, noting research that elementary school pupils learn more effectively earlier in the day.

She said, however, that parents have a right to be upset that they were kept in the dark. "I just apologize," Dorsey said. "I feel bad we're in this situation."

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