Parents air concerns at forum

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PROSPECT — Parents spoke out last week on the loss of flex time at Long River Middle School and the impact the change has had on their children.

A new schedule was implemented at the middle school this school year in order to make room for new reading and math programs and to allow more students to take a world language.

“The main goal of changing the Long River Middle School schedule was to strengthen our academic programs by giving every student in the building a reading class and to give more students the opportunity to take world language,” Long River Principal Jayne Lanphear told nearly three dozen parents at an Oct. 9 forum hosted by the school’s PTO.

An eighth period was added to the school day under the new schedule. To create the eighth period the 30-minute flex period that used to be at the end day was removed and minutes were shaved off of other periods.

All sixth-graders currently receive a 45-mintue study hall as do about 125 seventh- and eighth-graders who do not take the new reading or math programs or a world language. However, most students in seventh and eight grades now have a full course load without the benefit of a flex period or study hall.

Students used the flex period in a variety of ways, including starting their homework and getting extra help from teachers.

“You’re setting them up for failure by not giving them the chance to have that prep time,” said Ann Harrigan, the parent of a sixth-grader.

Students who also play school sports leave school early at times, meaning some are missing parts of classes, according to parents.

Candee Nolan said she doesn’t allow her son, who’s in eighth grade, to leave class early to help set up for home cross country meets.

“That stresses him out because he feels that I’m penalizing him,” Nolan said.

Along with the loss of flex time, parents raised issues with the amount of homework their children are receiving and a lack of communication from the school about the schedule change.

Policy states students should get 60 minutes of homework in sixth grade, 70 minutes in seventh grade and 80 minutes in eighth grade. Parents said their children are coming with home with two to three hours of homework a night.

Parents said their children have other commitments after school such as sports, religious education and family obligations. The loss of the flex period combined with a heavier homework burden is causing students to become stressed out and overworked, parents said.

Lanphear said when she was revising the schedule her mindset wasn’t to get rid of flex time, but rather to find the time for the additional course load.

“I don’t think any of us thought it would have a huge impact until it happened,” Lanphear said.

Many parents also said they were not aware of the change until shortly before school started.

“That’s been really troublesome for us as well,” Andrea Sutton said.

Parents and students alike may get a reprieve.

Lanphear and Long River Assistant Principal Michelle Meyers presented a proposed new schedule to the Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, at its Oct. 8 meeting. The proposed schedule would add a 20-minute flex period at the end of the day for seventh and eighth grades. The schedule for sixth grade would remain the same.

Five minutes would be taken from homeroom and the other 15 minutes would come from the unified arts block to create the flex period.

Meyers told the board the proposed schedule could be implemented for the second half of the school year. She added that a drawback to the plan is that some seventh- and eighth-graders would have 65 minutes of non-instructional time.

Following the forum, Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said the board didn’t do a good job communicating with parents about the schedule change. Yamin said he’ll work with administrators and review the feedback from parents to come up with a recommendation to the board that he hopes will be satisfactory to all parties.