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Chapel Hill-Carrboro was going to start school earlier and make the day longer. Not now

Chapel Hill starts off the morning with snow

Snow began falling in Chapel Hill and Carrboro just before 8 a.m., quickly creating a winter wonderland.
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Snow began falling in Chapel Hill and Carrboro just before 8 a.m., quickly creating a winter wonderland.

A plan to start school earlier and make the day slightly longer got shot down Wednesday night when an overflow crowd of parents told the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board it was moving too quickly.

The state requires at least 185 days, or 1,025 hours, of instruction, and those hours also have to fall between the Monday closest to August 26 and the Friday closest to June 11. For the past two years CHCCS has struggled to make that happen, largely due to weather.

District staff wanted to add time to the school day for elementary and middle school students, ensuring enough padding to cover a few missed days of class.

Elementary schools in the district currently run from 7:50 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and middle schools operate from 8:20 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.

The plan would have expanded elementary hours from 7:20 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. Middle school would have run from 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Patrick Abele said the plan followed careful consideration of data from surrounding districts, but this was the first time it had come before the board.

The public hadn’t had a chance to see the plan, but Abele said that’s normal at this point in a planning process. “That’s what these [school board] work sessions are for,” he said.

‘Uber Granny’ speaks

Paula Gee Davis emailed the board before the meeting to make sure her voice was heard.

“I think many families have not heard about this proposed change,” she wrote. “I think that this action should at least be delayed for more public response.”

Davis, who called herself the “Uber granny” during public comments Wednesday, pointed out how busy care providers’ mornings already are.

“Parents are not sitting around in the morning, relaxing with a cup of coffee and wishing school would open 20 minutes earlier,” she wrote.

No change

The board rejected the earlier start time even before hearing from the dozen parents who signed up to speak Wednesday night.

Vice Chair Mary Ann Wolf reiterated the pressure the district is under.

“‘None of us want to be making these decisions,” she said. “This is not why we ran for the board, but what we’re in is a conundrum.”

Board member Jean Hamilton, who was appointed to fill an empty seat just last month, wanted the proposed changes reconsidered.

“Something like that affects parents every single day,” Hamilton said.

Instead, she suggested the board revisit next year’s calendar.

“I think that we should not change the elementary bell time,” Hamilton said, and the audience applauded.

Davis, who hadn’t attended a board meeting before, was “extraordinarily happy” that the board listened to the community’s concerns.

“I feel so empowered that they took it off because now I won’t have to worry anymore,” she said.

Jaclyn Holland, a French teacher at and union rep for her school, said she realized it was her responsibility to collect feedback from her colleagues.

“It was comforting to me to hear the board bring up points some of my colleagues have already voiced,” Holland said.

“I feel like that process is important, and I think the difference that we would like to see is maybe just a little bit more time given and a little bit more communication,” she added.

Abele said he planned to meet with staff Thursday and send new options to the board before the next meeting.

“The plan that comes back will have options for the board beyond just start times,” he said.

The new plans will look at things like delayed starts, days that students are scheduled to have off and non-instructional time within the school day, like homeroom and passing periods, Abele said.

“The number of minutes you schedule per day is critical,” he said.

Abele said he’s not sure what would happen if the district didn’t meet the state’s requirements, as he’s never seen it happen. There are waivers for districts that miss 10 or more days of school due to weather, he said.

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Shelbi Polk reports on K-12 education in Durham and Orange Counties for the News & Observer. She attended Texas A&M University and followed the crowds to Raleigh in 2018.
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