The superintendent of schools will poll elementary school parents to determine the need for after-school care for the 18 Mondays that require two hours plus early dismissal for teacher development.
"We are going to do a survey to see how many families will use the program," says Middletown's Superintendent of Schools Patricia Charles.
When Middletown Patch first wrote a roundup story on Aug. 7 about a number of changes to the 2013-14 school year, many spoke out in the comment section and on Facebook. A follow-up story on Aug. 11 again garnered a large number of comments, mostly from those opposed to the change for a number of reasons.
On 18 Mondays during the 2013-14 school year, the city's eight elementaries will be dismissing at 1:15 p.m. in order to allow teachers professional development hours for ongoing education workshops, classes or seminars required by law.
When the education board approved the professional development days, the only dissenting vote was from Republican Ryan Kennedy, who is running for common council. "My concern was children getting out of school and going home to an empty house," Kennedy said.
"My dad was always home during the day, having worked second shift since I was six months old, but most families are not that lucky. We need to have a steady schedule."
Lori Donadio, parent of two high schoolers and a child at Bielefield, said working parents need more than a few weeks to come up with after-care solutions.
"Our family has planned our work schedules so that our youngest does not have to go to before or after school care. I work hourly, so if I don't work, I don't get paid."
Donadio says families like hers are "stuck in a hard place."
"If this is absolutely necessary for an academic purpose, the school district needs to take into consideration working families. Middletown schools tend to take considerations for many lower income families because their are subsidies and assistance for families in these income brackets. But, as a middle-class family who is struggling because we don't qualify for any assistance, but have few dollars in our pocket at the end of the day, this just becomes one more burden we have to carry."
On PD days, she said, her two older kids go into school late so they aren't home in time to watch the younger one. "I also know of other families that are in a similar situation," Donadio said.
Further, she said, "The school has used the Honeywell alert system to make us aware of this change, but have not used it to make us aware of some support options."
Jane Majewski, a Bielefield parent agrees. "I have two kids and I now have to pay someone to watch them and I hate adding another place for them to go to that is every other week. It's not consistent."
She says the YMCA program is expensive for families, as the cost includes membership. "For people that work for average wages with more than one child, it's financially painful."
She suggested that the Parks and Recreation Department or board of education offer programs for those days. "How about a computer homework dya held at the schools with support staff — bring up the Connecticut Mastery Test scores!"
Chrissy Magnano worries about special needs kids who cant find or afford providers who give the needed attention. "I work part-time and can't make ends meet as it is. Now I have to avoid working Mondays now that we're going to have these excessive early dismissals.
"My child thrives on routines all weekend," said Magnano, who's son goes to Farm Hill School. "He'll be returning on semi-random Mondays to have his days cut short. Once he returns from a weekend off, he's going to be all mixed up being sent home early. Also, when did they come up with this and why wasn't it talked about at PTA meetings?"
Another detractor of early dismissal is Republican Common Council candidate Angel Fernandez, a father of a Bielefield student, who called out the Board of Education for poor planning on Middletown Patch's Facebook page.
"Why they waited two weeks before school starts to come up with the early dismissal, not taking into consideration of parents that don't have the resources to pay for after school care," he questioned. "They have other ways to complete the staff development day like having some days where teachers have to stay a couple of hours late after school dismissal."
Fernandez said accommodating 21 professional development for teachers comes at a price for families who can't afford to take time off for work or pay for after-school care.
"I suggest that parents' voices should be heard louder and the PTA should request a meeting with board of education," Fernandez said.
Republican Common Councilwoman Deb Kleckowski, who has two boys at Wesley Elementary, says the news about 18 early-dismissal days came too late for parents hoping to enroll their children in the YMCA's Kids Korner program.
Beside the additional cost of child care, parents have learned that programs licensed by the state Department of Public Health can't operate as drop-in on a drop-in basis, which means Kids Korner requires children to be signed up every Monday and there's a two-day-per-week minimum to qualify.
Because so many parents signed up for Monday Kids Korner through the YMCA, Kleckowski is on a waiting list for her twin boys — with seven others ahead of her sons. "I'm sure everybody scrambled," she said.
She wonders why the change came so late in the summer and how parents are expected to find after-care with so little notice. "How come these things don't come up at PTA meetings and there is no backup plan for parents, even teachers can't get out at 1:15 either," Kleckowski said.
Parents in the community have told her that not only are their elementary school children getting out early, but their middle or high schoolers are going in late on those PD days.
"Most importantly, we're losing that much time for educating out children." Looking at the 2013-14 calendar, Kleckowski said, "they never go to school for a full week," between half-days, holidays, early dismissals and vacations.
"The irony is you're educating our teachers better than our children by causing a deficit in hours for educational time."