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Early Dismissal For Students An All-Day Headache for Moms

But the extra time gives teachers a chance to plan.

Monday is always a dreaded, hectic, busy day. For parents of elementary school students in Fairfax County, it is also an irritating day. Every Monday, elementary schools have "Early Release" day, when students are dismissed between 12:45pm (Newington Forest) and 1:15pm (Lorton Station). Teachers use the time for planning and scheduling meetings, but for parents it's more a big inconvenience.

Early release Mondays began back in the early 1970's to allow teachers planning time. Elementary school teachers do not receive a planning period during the day to take care of administrative tasks. Therefore, students began being dismissed 2.5 hours early on Mondays to allow the elementary level teachers the time to make lesson plans, have meetings, and do paperwork.  It takes a while to get students settled into class, bags unpacked, lunch eaten, and things closed at the end of the day. This leaves almost no productive instructional time for productive learning. It is stressful on children, especially lower grades, to have their normal school day shifted, lunch at a different time, and routines interrupted.

When the program began, most families had stay-at-home Moms so early releasing of students wasn't a big hassle. There was a parent home, or children were left home alone the extra hours. Boy, times have changed since then! Most families have both parents working, some with more than one job, and schedules are busier jam-packed. Finding childcare to adjust to different times is a huge headache. Parents who are lucky enough to have flexible work schedules have to leave early on Mondays, which is often the busiest day of the week. Getting children dressed, fed, lunches packed and taking them to school seems like a waste of time.

Parents find that by the time they drop their student off, they have to go pick them up, which is extremely frustrating. Mondays can be bad enough, catching up on work and fighting traffic. When my children come home they are all wound up and it's hard to accomplish anything. Work still needs attention, then the kids need attention, and it isn't a great mix. You can find childcare for the extra few hours, but that can be costly. Most day care centers won't watch children for only one afternoon a week.

It's easy to see why working parents would find early dismissal frustrating, but even stay-at-home parents find the policy frustrating. Some parents feel that their day is blocked off by the few hours the kids are in school. There is not enough time to go anywhere or really accomplish much, and the added stress of having to be home at a certain time creates havoc. Although the few hours of quiet are nice, it doesn't measure up to the work of getting them to school. After spending the weekend breaking up squabbles between siblings, being a chauffeur, and planning activities around kids, sending them back to school on Monday can be a much needed reprieve. But, knowing that reprieve is only a few hours is disheartening.

To make the most of early release Monday's there are some things parents can do. You can schedule doctor and dentist appointments on Monday afternoon. Planning afternoon play dates and activities that you can't normally fit into your evenings is a great use of the time. Make the most of your afternoons off by getting haircuts, running errands, or doing children's homework for the week.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) doesn't seem to be in any hurry to update this antiquated policy. The hassle and disruption it causes far outweighs the benefits. So what should Fairfax County do? My suggestion is to dismiss school half an hour earlier every day of the week to give teachers planning time. A lot of people think the school day is too long as it is so I doubt there would be many complaints if it were shortened by 30 minutes, for example. Maybe there could be one planning "day" a month, when students are out the entire day. They could keep it on Monday or maybe move it to Friday. Either way it's a long weekend. In the long run I guess it doesn't matter what day they would choose, as long as meant Early Dismissal Mondays were a thing of the past.

Virginia Fitz Shea October 23, 2010 at 01:49 AM
Why is it that Fairfax County doesn't seem to be in any hurry to update this antiquated policy? Prince William County used to have 1.5 hour early dismissals on Thursdays, but this practice ended at the end of the 2003-2004 school year, so the elementary school students have a total of 32 1/2 hours in school each week. This is also the amount of time in school for the students in Charles County, Washington, D.C. and Stafford County. Falls Church City, Fauquier County, Loudoun County, and Manassas City have the longest school day in this area: six hours and 45 minutes, for a weekly total of 33 hours and 45 minutes. Most elementary school students in Fairfax County attend school for 30 hours and 50 minutes per week. From Tuesday through Friday, msot students are in school six hours and 35 minutes per day; others are in school for six hours and 40 minutes. On Mondays, these students are in school either four hours and 30 minutes or four hours and 10 minutes. Thirty hours and 50 minutes per day would be the equivalent of six hours and 10 minutes per day if it were evenly distributed each day. This is the amount of time Prince George’s County students are in school each day. Arlington County dismisses 12 of its elementary schools two hours early on Wednesdays, so students have a total of 31 hours and five minutes per week in school. The other 10 elementary schools in Arlington have Limited Early Release, where most weeks the students have full days on Wednesdays.
Shawn Drury October 23, 2010 at 02:42 AM
Great information Virginia, Thanks!

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