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County schools seeking leeway on planning law

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha County school system wants permission to ignore one portion of the education reform measure state lawmakers passed in March.

County education officials say they can't comply with the part of the new law that gives all elementary school teachers 40-minute planning periods.

As it stands now, the county's elementary school teachers all have 30-minute planning periods four days a week, with one hour set aside for group planning sessions each week. This isn't an issue in middle and high schools, where class periods are typically 45 minutes or longer.

But in elementary school, administrators make room in the schedule for planning periods by putting students in elective classes like music, art and physical education — those subjects' teachers take over the class for a 30-minute period, giving the primary teacher a break to plan his or her lessons.  

To make room for an extra 10 minutes in every teacher's planning period would require massive shifts in the daily schedule and more teachers in those elective subjects to fill the gaps.

Jane Roberts, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, said officials have estimated to do that in all the county's schools would require 14.5 new positions.

That's 14 positions that the state Department of Education is not providing funding for — even though, Roberts said, they were aware of that problem in the spring, when legislators were just beginning to look at the education reform package.

"Nobody is arguing that 40 minutes of planning is a valuable thing," she said. "We would love to have it, we just need that additional staff to pull it off."

Of all the county's elementary schools, 19 could comply with the faculty they have now. The remaining 26 would need to cut back services for kindergarten students — by letting teachers' aides take over to give kindergarten teachers planning periods and having general teachers handle some subjects usually taught by specialists — in order to comply with the new law.

Officials are hoping that, in light of the way the new schedule could affect those students, the waiver, if granted, won't ruffle feathers among most of the county's educators.

Roberts said one school in Kanawha County has already taken up the issue in its faculty senate and told county officials that teachers would prefer their usual 30-minute planning sessions.

"I really know that elementary teachers use every minute of their planning time wisely," Roberts said. "There's no doubt teachers can use it, it's just a matter of stretching our staff."

The school board voted to seek the waiver at its regular meeting last week. Officials are frustrated with the predicament but are hopeful the state Department of Education will remedy the situation.

"We told them up front we weren't able to do it," Superintendent Ron Duerring said at that meeting. "And then they put this on us like this . . . I don't know what we'll have to do if the waiver is denied."

The county's waiver request will need to be approved by the state Department of Education as well as the legislative oversight committee.  

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.


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