A weekend interview with Julie Blumenthal, organizer of Parents Against Half Days at Hillsborough Schools
To give teachers extra planning time, the Hillsborough County school district has established bi-weekly early release days throughout the academic year. Within the past month, a group of parents upset with the arrangement popped up to complain. They are hoping to convince the School Board not to approve any agreement with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association that continues the early release days. Julie Blumenthal, a south Tampa mom with elementary-aged children, launched a Facebook page to organize parents, and she's leading the charge. Blumenthal spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about her effort, which includes a plea to the board on this coming Tuesday.
What exactly are you trying to tell the Hillsborough School District with regard to early release days?
We are trying to tell them that we do not want any early release days. They have done them the past two years and last year was worse than the year before. And we do not want them. We want them to figure out a better solution.
What is so bad about them?
There are several things. One is that it takes time out of the classroom for the children. The fact that they have them on Wednesday, it breaks up the middle of the week and that Wednesday essentially ... becomes a half day and the children don't take it as seriously as a full school day. It breaks up the continuity of the school day and the lesson plan.
Why did you not complain before now?
We have complained. And every time we sent an e-mail to the School Board, we just got a cookie-cutter response saying they will take a look at it. Once we heard they were considering it again, seriously considering it, I just really fed up. That's when I started the Facebook page.
How did you hear about this? Was it a teacher who told you about it? Or did you just hear it through the grapevine?
I heard it through the grapevine, picking the kids up from school last year near the end of the year, and somebody said, 'I heard they're proposing every week for half days.' My friends and I were so distraught. Because it was such a difficult year last year with the running back and forth, and getting the kids, and is it a half day, and then we'd have a day off the next day. It was just inconsistent educationally. You know, kids do better on a schedule. They need to have a schedule. And for them to wake up and go to school five days a week, Monday through Friday, that's a schedule. Not two days on, then a half day, come back one day and then you're off on the Friday. It's just inconsistent.
Did you find that your kids suffered academically for it? Or was it more an inconvenience?
Well, you know, my children still did okay in school. They did well. But that was not the point. The point is that valuable time was taken out of the classroom. And the fact that children in general don't take school as seriously because it's not presented to them as being a serious thing. When I was a child, you did not miss school unless you had a fever. Now it's like, oh, it's a half day, just stay home. Or go for a couple of hours and you'll be home. It's not really a full day, you'll be fine. It minimizes the importance of education.
What will you be doing now to fight this?
There's a School Board meeting on Aug. 10 that we will be going to and voicing our opinion. Because we've been told ... that it has not been voted on yet.
Did you talk to people at the teachers union as well?
They have not returned calls or e-mails. And on my Facebook page there are several teachers who said they have tried to call the CTA and they have not returned phone calls or e-mails.
What happens if they just continue on the way it is? Are you going to continue this fight?
We're going to continue it. The School Board votes on this. I really feel if the School Board continues to vote this way, then we need a new School Board. ... I'll help do what I can to have changes of the people on the School Board so they have the interests of the children at hand.