Members of the Regional School Unit 2 community gathered over Zoom to attend the regular business meeting. Zoom screenshot

HALLOWELL — A survey meant to gather parent feedback didn’t provide enough information for the Regional School Unit 2 school board to decide how it wants to approach scheduling early release days that would allow for staff development.

The board discussed the topic for an hour at its meeting last week, eventually tabling until April 15 a decision on early release days aimed at providing time for staff development.

In a regular year, RSU 2 has at least one early release Wednesday built into its calendar. With the coronavirus pandemic, students have had the full day off on Wednesdays, originally intended to be a catch-up day with remote learning. Early release has been part of the discussion in creating the school calendar for next year.

A March parent survey asked if they “support” having an early release Wednesday once a month, twice a month, or weekly. Board members, however, pointed out parents may “support” having an early release, but may not be able to “manage” one, in terms of arranging transportation to and from school.

“If it was worded that we could ‘manage one, yes, but going to be a strain to my family, no,’ that’s different,” Board Member Donna Seppy said. “Even though it’s a strain, I may be able to manage. There’s a lot more data that needed to be mined from this.”

Survey results showed 69% of polled participants “supported” a weekly early release and 30% did not want a weekly early release. In total across the three surveys, around 20% of families “could not support it.” According to Assistant Superintendent Mary Paine, the second highest group supported early release once a month; the least favorable option was early release twice a month.

School Board Chairperson Jon Hamann suggested if students were to have early release at 11 a.m. every Wednesday over 36 weeks of school, it equates to 18 fewer school days, which was “a lot” to him. That led to board discussion about other options, including having late start days.

“My district has a short Wednesday every week,” Board Member Leanne Burnham said. “I’ve seen it be effective. It’s not a full half day, it ends at 1:30 p.m.”

Board Member Russ Hughes, who had advocated for only monthly early releases, said he would be open to having a late start after the idea was raised by Board Member Chris Myers Asch. Asch said it may be easier for parents to drop off kids late than pick them up earlier, and Burnham noted school-aged children need more sleep.

“I would support late start, but not more than one a month,” Hughes said. “The overwhelming choice for consumers is once a month.

“We have all raised kids and have high school students and early release is a pain,” he added, “and I don’t know if the good outweighs the pain we are going to cause parents.”

Board members Mark Pearson, Kathryn Marsiglia, Jon Lambert, Linda Leet and Hughes were in favor of a monthly early release, while Dawn Gallagher, Asch, Burnham and Seppy were interested in more frequent release days.

RSU 2 Superintendent Tonya Arnold said time from early release days allows teachers to plan lessons, seek professional development and for department discussions. She said teachers could also use the time to meet with students who need extra help due to remote learning.

There were 60 participants who took part in the Zoom meeting, and parents were outspoken in the chat box.

“HDES Parent” said “Monthly! Kids need to be in school. We have lost too much time.”

Bri Henderson, a Hall-Dale Elementary School teacher, said she wants weekly time blocks for early release or late start.

“I believe we would be able to accomplish more if there were weekly time blocks as opposed to more spread out monthly time blocks,” she said. “It would be difficult to build momentum if we were only meeting once a month for an extra couple of hours.”

Seppy and Hamann want parents included in the discussion before a plan is finalized, making sure to address the 20% of survey respondents who said they could not handle an early release day. Transportation was not addressed during the discussion and board members asked for that information to be available when the discussion resumes at the April 15 board meeting.

“We put the survey out there and we are only looking at one part of the response,” Hamann said. “We asked parents to do so much and I don’t think it’s fair to discount people saying they can’t handle it.”

The next RSU 2 school board gathering will be a meeting of the Finance Committee on Thursday. The April 15 board meeting will be a special one to approve the district’s 2021-2022 budget and the school calendar.

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