The Gloucester School Committee may have taken one positive step by assigning a flap over class learning time to its own program subcommittee for closer scrutiny.
But the truth is, the committee should reach further than that; school officials should, in fact, reach out to the state Department of Education to confirm that the district is complying with state mandates regarding minimum class time, and to find out how to best fix the problem if it’s not.
For while Superintendent of Schools Richard Safier is right to recognize the needs of many city elementary students and provide them with the physical and educational nutrition they need, the wording of state mandates regarding class time suggests the city may indeed be sidestepping a key requirement of school law. And the city’s School Committee owes it to all students, parents, teachers and even Safier to clarify whether the city’s school system is – or is not – abiding by the rules.
In his My View column in Thursday’s Times, Safier makes the case for providing a new universal program being run in Veterans Memorial and Beeman Memorial schools to address the fact that many eligible students had not even used the nutritional program. To that end, Safier and the School Committee are understandably providing the program to all students during — not before — the school day, realizing that some students who may need the program most are not always there before school starts. And they consider the new time a “working breakfast” that counts as learning time as well.
Yet, according to state mandates, “school breakfast and lunch, passing between classes ... receiving school services and participating in optional school programs” does not count toward the minimum 900 hours of learning time, and if you take out the breakfast time and a snack time, Gloucester appears to fall short.
But the School Committee and its program subcommittee should not hesitate to seek a state ruling on its class learning time as soon as possible.
If city schools need to make changes, best to find out now — before it’s too late.