Education

‘Anybody in the world’ can take survey on new MCSD school start times. Will it be accurate?

A decision on a controversial proposal to change school start times in Muscogee County was delayed so parents could be surveyed, but now that survey is being called into question.

The survey was intended for only parents of elementary school children, who would see an extra 30 minutes added to the school day, Muscogee County School District Superintendent David Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer.

When informed that the survey was posted Wednesday on the district’s website and is available for anyone to take multiple times on the same electronic device, he referred the L-E’s questions to district communications director Mercedes Parham.

“The parents’ survey was sent to elementary parents,” Parham told the L-E in an email Friday. “However, to prevent limitations, the parents’ survey link was also provided on the families section of our website. All surveys responses, regardless of the access point, are automatically generated in Microsoft Office’s survey system. With any survey, there are variables, but our focus is to have more points of inclusion than exclusion, where possible.”

The explanation didn’t satisfy Muscogee County Council of PTAs second vice president Gloria Brown, who is taking care of four grandchildren living with her, two in elementary school and two in middle school.

“That’s not going to give an accurate opinion of the parents it will affect if it’s open up to anybody in the world,” Brown said in a telephone interview Friday.

The parent survey is for “general feedback” and a separate survey sent to elementary school teachers is for “feedback regarding scheduling,” Parham said.

The four questions

The survey available on MCSD’s website asks includes a link to the proposal and asks four questions:

1. Rank the following areas of instruction by level of importance:

Core instruction.

Individual Learning Time.

Specials (e.g. art, music, P.E.).

Social Emotional Learning.

Recess.

2. Would you support a proposal to include flexibility for art, music, field trips, recess and P.E.?

3. Would you support a proposal to include more flexibility for core instruction?

4. Would you support adding 30 more minutes within the school day to support more time for specials and/or core instruction?

After submitting a response, the automatic “thank you” reply includes a link to “Submit another response,” which allows seemingly unlimited responses to the survey from the same device.

“That’s not good,” Brown said. “If it’s supposed to be based on the opinion of the elementary kids’ parents, it should have been available only to those parents and a one-time deal so it can be an accurate assessment.”

The deadline for responses is at the close of business Tuesday. The school district administration is expected to present the survey results during the school board’s June 10 work session, starting at 5 p.m., followed by a vote at the June 24 meeting, which starts at 6 p.m.

“I think the decision has been already made,” Brown said. “The survey is just to make us feel a part of it.”

The L-E emailed the nine school board members Friday, asking for: their reaction to the administration allowing anyone to take the survey multiple times; how they intend to vote on the proposal; and what information they still need if they are undecided.

Vice chairwoman Laurie McRae of District 5 is the only board member who responded to the query before this story’s deadline. She didn’t answer questions about the survey, but she did share her opinion about the proposal.

“I was not in favor of the earlier start time when it was initially proposed,” McRae said. “As the mother of four children, one still being in elementary school, I realize the strain it could put on our students and families. . . . I will continue to gather input and feedback from parents and teachers. My vote will take all that into consideration, but right now I am not in favor of the proposal.”

Chain reaction

The proposal would start elementary school classes 15 minutes earlier and end 15 minutes later.

The administration’s rationale, expressed on the school board’s agenda, is to “promote flexibility” for music, art, physical education, recess, field trips and computer coding, “as well as ease traffic congestion and reduce bus delays.” MCSD operations chief David Goldberg said the change also would allow more students to eat breakfast at school.

Changing the elementary school times would alter the schedule for middle schools and high schools because of the domino effect from bus transportation.

So, if implemented, the starting and ending times for the 2019-20 school year would change in the following ways:

Elementary schools

Current schedule: Doors open and breakfast is served at 7:15 a.m.; classes start at 8 a.m.; classes end at 2:30 p.m.

Proposed schedule: Doors open and breakfast is served at 7 a.m.; classes start at 7:45 a.m.; classes end at 2:45 p.m.

Middle schools

Current schedule: Doors open and breakfast is served at 8:30 a.m.; classes start at 8:50 a.m.; classes end at 3:53 p.m.

Proposed schedule: Doors open and breakfast is served at 8:15 a.m.; classes start at 8:45 a.m.; classes end at 4 p.m.

High schools

Current schedule: Doors open and breakfast is served at 7:45 a.m.; classes start at 8:10 a.m.; classes end at 3:25 p.m.

Proposed schedule: Doors open and breakfast is served at 7:45 a.m.; classes start at 8:15 a.m.; classes end at 3:30 p.m.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.
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