To the editor:
This is an open letter to Superintendent of Schools Richard Safier and members of the Gloucester School Committee.
In doing some research, I have discovered that Beeman may be in violation of the state mandate for number of hours of direct instruction per year. According to the Massachusetts Department of Education website (www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs), Section 27.04: “Structured Learning Time Requirements”:
“... No later than the 1997-1998 school year, schools shall ensure that every elementary school student is scheduled to receive a minimum of 900 hours per school year of structured learning time. Time which a student spends at school breakfast and lunch, passing between classes, in homeroom, at recess, in non-directed study periods, receiving school services, and participating in optional school programs shall not count toward meeting the minimum structured learning time requirement for that student.”
That 900 hours in a 180-day school year works out to five hours per day of direct instructional time.
Beeman has a six-hour school day. Although I have not seen an official schedule, according to Principal Ellen Sibley, students have a 30-minute lunch, one 15-minute recess and one 15-minute snack per day. Those three items alone make up for an hour of time off the six-hour school day, bringing the instructional time to five hours per day, just at the 900-hour threshold per school year.
If we calculate in 15 minutes of transition time per day (students moving from the classroom to other areas of the building and back), that makes up for another 45 hours off the state-mandated number.
It has been suggested that the breakfast program be added during “home room time” — that is, during the Pledge of Allegiance, attendance, signing up for lunch choice, etc. If the breakfast program is added in, even at “10 minutes per day,” that is an additional 50 minutes per week, making it another 30 hours of lost instruction time per year. And we all know this is a very conservative estimate.
As it stands today, Beeman is currently offering its students only 855 hours of scheduled instructional time per year, 45 hours below the state mandate. And this number does not account for BMI testing, eye/ear screenings, non-enrichment school assemblies, holiday parties, non educational class movie days, field days, etc.
Adding in the breakfast program at 10 minutes per day, during homeroom, which is also counted by the state as non-instructional time, will make the scheduled time at the school 825 hours per school year, 75 hours below the state mandate.
We can argue about the merits of breakfast programs, or even whether we need them in our schools. People can even write letters trying to depict me as someone who wants children to go hungry. But the Department of Education has set guidelines for the minimum amount of instruction time and those mandates cannot be ignored.
Right now, Gloucester is giving our students a good education, but as a collective group, we can work to ensure that all Gloucester students, regardless of socioeconomic status, receive a great education and, at the same time, do not go hungry.