Possible side-effects of Avoyelles School District's 4-day school week

House-to-house buses questioned; no next-day homework

You’ve seen the ads on TV for various medicines. “Side-effects may include ....”

There are some, and may be other, side-effects to the Avoyelles School District’s four-day school week, which will go into effect for the 2019-20 school year.

The School Board heard and accepted the reports of its committees, which met and discussed issues on March 18.

Among the recommendations accepted was a “homework policy” that gives students a week to turn in any do-at-home assignments.

The most interesting topic of discussion at the committee meetings did not result in a committee recommendation, but holds the potential to come back for further discussion and possible action in the future.

That possible bombshell is the end of house-to-house school bus transportation

LACOUR’S COMMENTS

Board member Chris LaCour told the board’s Bus Committee that transportation costs, a shortage of bus drivers and substitute drivers, and a longer school day with a four-day week all argue in favor of ending the traditional method of stopping in front of every house to collect children living there. It may be time for the district to construct covered bus stops around the parish where parents would drop children off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, he said.

While it may make economic sense and help ensure children get home a little earlier -- even with the extra hour tagged on to the end of each school day -- there are those who believe politics trumps efficiency.

Transportation Supervisor Brent Whiddon reminded board members that the previous School Board called for a one-mile ban on bus transportation, prohibiting buses from hauling children living within a mile of the school. This policy is common in many school districts.

Whiddon said that policy “lasted about a week” and the parish went back to picking up every child who wanted to ride the bus.

“Just because somebody complains about it doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” Board Member Rickey Adams said.

BUS DUTY AT BUS STOPS

At one point the possibility of leaving children unattended at the bus stop was raised. That concern was countered by proposing that teachers would have to pull “bus duty” at a bus stop instead of at the school.

The committee was told that some bus routes are over an hour long.

Board member Robin Moreau noted in a previous meeting -- arguing for a return to community schools -- that one route in his district takes at least 75 minutes to bring children from the Hessmer area to Cottonport Elementary while Marksville Elementary is only about 15 minutes from those houses.

With the school day being extended to about 4 p.m., a bus route of 60 to 90 minutes would have some children arriving home at 5-5:30 p.m.

Some children getting on buses at about 5:45 a.m. will be catching the bus in front of their house at about 5:30 a.m. with school days starting about 10-15 minutes earlier, Moreau added.

It was noted there are also 90-minute routes in the Bordelonville area.

The afternoon transportation time could be reduced if buses only had to take a load of students to a centralized bus stop where parents or caregivers would be waiting to take them home, rather than drive down many roads, stopping at every house along the route.

Some parents have expressed their discontent with the four-day school week because it means an extra day of child care every week. Eliminating door-to-door pickup and requiring parents to drop off and pick up their children on the four school days would probably be another unpopular side-effect of the four-day week.

However, Bus Committee members were told there are more children being dropped off and picked up at school than might be expected, so there may not be as much opposition as feared.

If parents are making the drive to school in the morning and back to school in the afternoon, it might actually be less drive-time for them if there was a community bus stop serving the students.

The committee made no recommendation on the issue. So, for the time being, bus routes under the four-day schedule will be run the same as before -- only with earlier pick ups, later drop offs and no buses on Mondays.

Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said he has heard that Avoyelles Public Charter will not be using APSD buses, “but I have not received that in writing.” He said the parochial schools have confirmed they will not use public school buses next school year.

“We also need to see what Red River Charter will do,” he added, referring to the new charter school for grades 6-8 that will open in the former Mansura High School for the 2019-20 school year.
After the April 2 board meeting, RRCA officials announced they will adopt a four-day calendar, but it will be different from the public school district's. RRCA will contract with a private company to provide students' transportation to and from school. The RRCA Board is expected to adopt a final calendar for the 2019-20 school year in the near future.

‘NO HOMEWORK’

The School Board Education Committee endorsed what is being called the “no homework policy.” The School Board approved that recommendation at its April 2 meeting.

Like “year-round school,” the name is a misnomer because students will still have do-at-home assignments and be required to study at home for upcoming tests. However, there will be no next-day homework assignments to be turned in for a grade.

Students will have at least a week to complete at-home assignments.

For example, the math teacher cannot send home a work sheet Tuesday for her students to complete at home and turn in Wednesday to be graded. However, the math teacher can tell her students it would be in their best academic interests to take home some study aids to prepare for the test they will have on Friday.

Also allowable within the “no homework” guidelines would be for an English Literature teacher to tell students on Tuesday to write a character analysis of Iago, the villain in Shakespeare’s Othello, and turn it in next Tuesday to be graded.

The “no homework” policy is designed to address the complaint that students will have less time at home to do overnight homework due to the longer day. It also takes advantage of the “extra day” on Monday for students to do homework they may have been assigned during the previous week.

On another 4-day week-related matter, Education Committee Chairman Stanley Celestine Jr. said he has been approached by several faith-based organizations expressing an interest in offering programs to help children and their families on Mondays of next school year.

That was for information only and there was no recommendation for board action at this time.

CALENDAR ADOPTED
The School Board adopted the 2019-20 calendar for the four-day week. The calendar adopted corrected an error in the one presented to the Executive Committee. Easter vacation will be the week before Easter, April 7-10, and students will return to school the Tuesday after Easter. The calendar presented to the committee incorrectly had Easter vacation running from April 10 (Good Friday) to April 17.

The calendar also notes that high school finals will be May 19 and 20, and not May 15 and 19 as was printed on the calendar presented in committee.

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