Pasco County middle, high schools to adjust daily schedules as result of 2017 hurricane

Workers scour a Wesley Chapel High School classroom after Hurricane Irma evacuees left the campus, which was one of several in Pasco County used as an emergency shelter. [Times | 2017]
Workers scour a Wesley Chapel High School classroom after Hurricane Irma evacuees left the campus, which was one of several in Pasco County used as an emergency shelter. [Times | 2017]
Published May 14

Students, teachers and staff at Pasco County's middle and high schools will see some changes in their daily schedules when they return to classes in the fall.

Some campuses will see their start and end times shifted by a few minutes. Some will have their passing periods between classes adjusted. A handful will see their lunch periods shortened.

The reason? To ensure that all students receive an identical number of minutes of instruction. As a side benefit, district officials should be able to better plan if they have to close for several days because of a hurricane or other emergency.

It was Hurricane Irma, the September 2017 storm that shuttered schools for more than a week, that pushed the district in this direction.

The Florida Department of Education waived two school days of the required 180 for districts that canceled classes because of Irma's threat, sheltering needs and the resulting cleanup.

When Pasco officials began to calculate how much time they would have to add back into the calendar, they discovered the answer wasn't the same for every school. Some needed 2 minutes a day to reach the minimum allowed amount of instructional time, while others needed 8 minutes daily or even longer.

Many, meanwhile, required no change at all.

This information provided the "bright light" signal for superintendent Kurt Browning to reassess school scheduling — not just bus times, but also all the time between arrival and dismissal.

"I don't need to be in a position of calling all my schools and asking, 'How much instruction time do you have?'" Browning explained.

If the district ever faces another emergency situation, he said, the administration must be able to make a single decision on makeup time for everyone.

He's already begun hearing complaints from students in schools that are slated to move to 30-minute lunch periods, from a current 50 minutes.

"It is essential for students to have proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, as it is essential for optimizing school performance and ensuring that all students will have a chance at attaining success," Pasco High student Ethan Rampersaud wrote. "Therefore, a thirty minute lunch period would not be enough to ensure the needs of proper nutrition and health are met."

Browning said he expects to talk to school cafeteria workers to see if they can find efficiencies in their service, but he did not anticipate changing his position.

"There will be changes that students and teachers will see when they come back in August," he said.

The proposed schedule is expected to go to the School Board for approval in June.

Related: Another thing we learned from the hurricane: Some schools have way more class time 

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