ROCK SPRINGS — More than 100 comments were read tonight during a special Sweetwater County School District No. 1 board meeting on a recommended four-day school week.
There were so many comments that the board needed to adjourn its public hearing which began at 5 p.m. and continue the commentary during its regular meeting at 6 p.m.
The four-day school week proposal was recommended by the Alternative Schedule Task Force that was formed last year to explore different schedules after next school year.
Comments ranged from complete support of the new schedule to the recommendation being entirely insensitive due to the COVID-19 school closures. Several people argued that the lack of public involvement because of social-distancing painted the district as underhanded in pushing its agenda passed the community.
But Human Resources Director Nicole Bolton said the district community displayed more involvement during the school closures than it did when the same proposal was considered by the board last year. She pointed out that roughly 2,100 views were counted during the district’s Youtube meetings since the closures, and 110 people shared comments with the district tonight.
Bolton said that was far more engagement than the district saw during seven public forums and two public hearings last year.
“We heard from the teachers that ‘we need time’,” Bolton said during her presentation prior to the public comment period. “The data shows a strong direct effect on the quality of education and student achievement in alignment with the district’s goals.”
The survey was conducted among district staff and the public. The staff survey had 401 responses, or roughly 40% of the entire district, an amount Bolton called a “high response rate” although she speculated that the majority of those responses came from certified staff.
The public survey resulted in 737 responses. The current schedule was not an option as the purpose of the task force was to find alternative schedules. But some of those responding tonight felt the process wasn’t thorough enough.
“Why did only 40% of the staff respond? The administration tells us that that’s good. No, its not.” said parent Jason Cristanelli. “Everyone is working online right now. I would call that a lack of respect and support for this leadership.”
Several other parents echoed Cristanelli’s concerns that public comment was minimal and “social media, which drives current culture, still shows an overwhelming discontent with these options.” Others expressed concerns about low-income families dealing with daycare and losing a day in the school lunch programs.
Still, many people expressed support for the proposal believing that an extra day for teachers will result in a more positive learning environment for students. They believe the schedule will provide better professional development opportunities for teachers and limit teachers time out of the classroom.
While many issues like adjustments to the school lunch programs and busing will need to addressed by the district, Bolton said: “with a year for planning and adjustment, we’re looking for a scheduling framework that will meet the district’s goals and needs for parents, businesses, and the community.”
Following the public comment period, the board voted 4-3 to approve the four-day school week.
See the video below to view the entire public hearing and special school board meeting.