TAMPA — As a monstrous storm loomed outside the windows, a flurry of concerns stirred inside the Hillsborough County school board chambers.
There were frustrations about the school calendar, early release dates and exam schedules. Questions about Advanced Placement credits and fear of budget cuts. Suggestions for more healthy cafeteria options and requests to ease fundraising restrictions.
Almost 100 students from nearly 30 schools brought those issues and more to the county School Board Tuesday afternoon as part of an annual student forum. The two-hour conference was cut short due to an approaching storm, but the students pressed on nonetheless.
"For the past two years, first semester exams have been after winter break. Winter break is a long time, you know?" said Armwood High School student Travis Comrey. "Can't we have exams before winter break?"
He wasn't the only one to ask. And winter break wasn't the only schedule issue students raised.
Ruben Gonzalez, who attends Robinson High, wondered whether the school year could start earlier. Richelle Collins, from Hillsborough High's international baccalaureate program, asked officials to consider IB exams in May when changing school start dates and breaks. Gaither High student Joseph Tostige was curious about changes to early-release days and school day start times.
Melissa Perez, from Plant High, prompted muffled laughter when she suggested that the School Board might nail down a calendar before the year starts.
Board members said that because the Florida Legislature puts restrictions on the calendar, their hands are often tied when it comes to start dates and breaks. Board member Jack Lamb referred to that "school board in the sky," and Candy Olson suggested the students petition legislators.
And board members assured students that details of early-release days were being hammered out, citing a school board workshop on the subject that took place earlier Tuesday.
The students also offered a heap of other suggestions: student input on teacher evaluations, motion-activated plumbing, transportation for academic teams, on-campus security cameras and stress- or anger-management classes.
And then, toward the end, came this grievance from Leto High's Edward Newkirk:
"As seniors, we get to a point where we're done with all our required classes. … We have a couple left and then all electives. It's hard to get up and come to school every day, but we have to because our attendance counts toward exemptions from exams. I just don't know if I can do it anymore."
Said chairwoman Doretha Edgecomb: "You know what you just described? Senioritis."
Kim Wilmath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2442.