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The Roar

The Student news source for West Shore Junior/Senior High School

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That Friday feeling

District considers eliminating early release days
Students+line+up+by+the+door+to+be+dismissed+by+the+2%3A15+p.m.+bell+on+a+Friday.
Carter Newlin
Students line up by the door to be dismissed by the 2:15 p.m. bell on a Friday.

Before speech and social media teacher Heather da Silva read through the Brevard Public Schools survey suggesting eliminating early release days next school year, she thought it was “just an ugly rumor.”
“As it turns out, it’s a whole lot uglier and a lot less ‘rumory,’” she said.
Da Silva is the school’s building representative for the Brevard Federation of Teachers, the county’s teacher union. She settles disputes, answers questions and shares information from the BFT and district with staff members.
On Oct. 3, BPS released an eight-question survey regarding the 2024-2025 school calendar. The district emailed the survey to people on its mailing list and its employees, and it had a total of 7,077 respondents.
Da Silva said if she were teaching a unit on bias, the survey would be a “good example.”
“The questions were things like, ‘Would you rather have a full week off at Thanksgiving or early release Fridays throughout the school year,’” da Silva said. “There was never a third option of ‘or would you rather continue how we’re doing it this year?’”
The survey stated that “BPS would gain four additional days’ worth of instruction if early release [Fridays] were converted to normal school days.”
Testing coordinator Maria Hedrick previously taught AP Statistics for 15 years. When she took the survey, she said she had to pause.
“It actually looked to me like they were trying to find a way to get rid of early release days,” Hedrick said. “It seemed like they wanted you to say, ‘Oh, we really like this [week-long] break. Let’s keep it and let’s do away with the early release days.’”
Russell Bruhn, Chief Strategic Communications Officer for BPS, said he believes the survey’s purpose was to compile options.
“I don’t think we have an opinion on [eliminating early release days],” he said. “We want the feedback from our community to try to best serve them.”
According to Bruhn, there are several reasons to consider changes to the calendar. One reason is that Aug. 10, the traditional school start date, falls on a weekend for the next two years. Additionally, he said many survey respondents wanted to end the school year before Memorial Day, and some were concerned about scheduling hurricane make-up days.
The district plans to finalize the school calendar late this year or early next year.
“There’s options of having both, and there’s options of having one,” Bruhn said. “That’s why I say it’s not either [Thanksgiving] or [early release].”
Conversely, da Silva said a distrust between teachers and the public might have been a factor.
“There’s a perception that teachers blow off that day, like they ‘peace out’ when the students do,” she said. “No, I left at 4 p.m. last Friday because I have phone calls to catch up on.”
When da Silva announced the news to teachers, “they were waiting for the punchline to the joke.”
“I think as a whole, [teachers] are not happy,” history teacher Sarah Scott said. “We only get a short amount of time during our planning period, so uninterrupted time is when I get the bulk of my work done.”
During Power Hour, Scott’s room consists of students eating lunch, attending clubs or making up tests. If the district eliminates the Friday planning time, she said her room will become quieter during the day.
“I’m going to have to take a lot more [work] home or find ways to get a little bit of grading done here and there,” Scott said. “I won’t allow kids to sit in here at lunch for Power Hour because I’m going to need to really focus on what I need to get done.”
According to da Silva, teachers can use early release time for tasks that would otherwise take away from the learning environment.
“[The school board wants] teachers to do things to handle any type of personal issues,” da Silva said. “You don’t want to do that during student contact time because that means somebody has to cover you or you have to get a [substitute]. [If] you’ve got early release Fridays, you can take it and it has zero student impacts.”
As of the 2022-2023 BPS school year, the first three days of Thanksgiving break have been hurricane make-up days.
In a survey conducted by the “Roar” involving 22 teachers, all but one preferred having shorter school hours on Fridays and a potentially reduced Thanksgiving break than eliminating early release days and having a week of vacation.
“I’m sure there are teachers who are indifferent to it but I use [that planning time] because if I don’t do that planning at school, I take it home,” English teacher Carrie Aune said. “This weekend, I didn’t even see my kids.”
On the other hand, English teacher Tamara Reis said early release days are “meaningless” to her.
“I think it’s fantastic for the kids, but for teachers, we have [Professional Development] on a lot of Friday releases,” Reis said. “I do all my grading at home anyway. It’s not like you can do a lot of planning in an hour and a half.”
During PD, which happens around once a month, teachers may collaboratively read articles, grade senior project papers or attend meetings.
Before 2013, teachers instructed five out of seven class periods. However, due to a decline in state funding that year, the district presented a budget cut of $25 million and asked teachers to instruct six of seven class periods.
The move saved around $10 million and “allowed nearly 200 teaching positions to be cut,” according to ClickOrlando.
“I looked at some numbers with union leadership, and to get back to five-of-seven would be between $18 and $20 million a year [extra],” da Silva said. “As soon as they put that proposal out there, we knew this was never going back.”
Although teachers adapted, most were “extremely upset” with the change.
“Well, if they’re going to take [early release days] away, then I would like my second planning period back,” Spanish teacher Alexandra Stewart said. “Otherwise, the district needs to move to not giving homework, because when am I supposed to grade? They don’t pay me overtime to grade anything.”
Brevard’s first early release days occurred on Wednesdays in 2015. However, the day conflicted with dual-enrollment students’ schedules, since Eastern Florida State College did not comply with the same changes. Thus, citing that the college was closed on Fridays anyway, early release days moved to Fridays in 2018.
On Nov. 29 of that year, BPS shared a survey on its Facebook page asking families how “Friday early release days [were] working out.” This year, it posted no such question on its social media or website.
Consequently, the percentage of respondents on the 2023 survey identifying as students was 1.79, while those identifying as parents and employees were 75.72 and 33.73, respectively. Sampling bias, in which surveyors target specific groups, may have influenced the results.
“Sometimes people do surveys to give you a voice and then they do what they want to anyway,” Hedrick said. “I don’t know enough about this administration because it’s [the superintendent’s] first year. Does he really listen to us? Time will tell.”
Despite the implications from the district, Principal Rick Fleming said he doubts the board could remove early release days.
“The teachers wouldn’t agree to it, and the parents and the kids dang sure aren’t going to agree to it,” Fleming said. “I think [it works] for our community, and people have adjusted around that school schedule. The cat is out of the bag, [and] I don’t think you can ever put the cat back in.”

 

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About the Contributors
Rhea Sinha, Staff Writer
I'm a sophomore and a first-year writer on the staff. I love talking to people with fresh perspectives and hope to share their stories with my writing. I have played on the varsity tennis team for the past three years, and I'm excited to continue both tennis and journalism for the rest of my high school experience.
Carter Newlin, Staff Photographer
Hey! I'm a junior and this is my first year on the "Roar" staff. I love photography, especially on film. I also play soccer for West Shore, and I'm a huge Jacksonville Jaguars fan. Duuuval and go Cats!