Teachers and staff at several Pinellas County fundamental schools have voted to opt out of a plan that will release students an hour early every Wednesday beginning this fall.
If a majority of a school's parents agree, those fundamentals will be exempt from the controversial provision recently approved by the School Board as part of the teachers' contract.
The opportunity to opt out is available to fundamental schools because they don't rely on the district to transport children to and from school, said associate superintendent Ron Stone. Since parents drive their children, the schools can set hours different from the rest of the district.
"The fundamentals are somewhat unique," Stone said. "Other schools would not be able to do this."
At least three fundamental schools in St. Petersburg — Bay Vista, Lakeview and Pasadena — have approached the district about opting out, Stone said. All three already have received a 75 percent vote of approval from their teachers and staff, the amount needed to override any portion of the teachers' contract they oppose.
Bay Vista Fundamental principal Kristen Sulte said her staff voted 40-1 to opt out of the early release on Wednesdays. The teachers don't need the extra hour of planning time they would gain with the early release of students on Wednesdays because they already have dedicated planning time on Mondays.
In exchange for staying later on that day, teachers leave 15 minutes earlier on the other four days, Sulte said.
Curtis Fundamental in Clearwater follows a similar plan. Curtis principal Kathy Duncan said with only a few exceptions, her faculty and staff voted to follow the same schedule as last year.
She expects parents will agree when she polls them via an automated phone message.
"A few who had only heard about the early release day from the newspaper were upset," Duncan said.
"They wanted to know, 'Why do we have to do it?' "
Fundamental schools that secure the necessary approval from staff and parents will not have to get permission from the School Board to opt out of early release because there is no impact to the district, said board chairwoman Peggy O'Shea.
"It's too bad all schools don't have this option," she said.