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  1. Education

Students upset with schedule changes at Land O'Lakes High School

Published May 10, 2017

LAND O'LAKES — Jack Nelson had plans for his seventh-period lunch next fall.

A rising Land O'Lakes High School senior, Nelson expected to use the 50 minutes to get his homework done, freeing time to play sports and get a second part-time job after school lets out each afternoon.

But come Aug. 14, seventh period will be no more at Land O'Lakes High, though school will let out at the same time. The opportunity, which had let seniors leave school an hour before the final bell each day, fell victim to the school's two-year renovation project, which will close as many as a quarter of the buildings on campus at any given time.

Lunch will be reduced to 30 minutes during the fifth of sixth class periods.

Nelson and his classmates are not taking it well.

"It's something that changes the entire school day," he said. "There really are no upsides."

More than 500 people have signed a petition urging the return to the old schedule. Some students are preparing to complain to the School Board when it meets May 16.

Teachers also have raised concerns that they were not consulted regarding the revision, which will change the way they teach and plan. Most are uncomfortable speaking out, though, said United School Employees of Pasco president Kenny Blankenship, who intends to return to a Land O'Lakes High classroom in the fall.

Blankenship said he once taught with a similar schedule, where the fifth period was broken into three sections, one of which was a 30-minute lunch.

"It's a nightmare," he said.

Principal Ric Mellin explained that he wants to limit the movement of students on campus during the construction, so they stay out of harm's way. And because the school will be partially blocked off, Mellin added, it won't have the usual open space for students to go study outside of class.

"A popular destination is the media center, but we have to use the media center for classes" during construction, he said. "I don't have a place to put these kids other than the lunchroom."

Plus, the school is losing some non-instructional staffers who monitor lunch periods.

Mellin said eliminating seventh period and having a shorter lunch in the middle of the day works best for the school. He said he has been reviewing all of the variables for several months, and this represents the best option.

"We knew during the renovations of this school there were going to be some inconveniences, and we were going to have to do business a little differently," he said. "But our families in this community were well aware of it."

When the School Board discussed closing the campus for a year of work, in fact, parents overwhelmingly objected to the idea.

As details of some of the changes have come out, parents have not complained to the school. But not all students are yet convinced.

They've raised concerns about having a fifth-period course in which lunch separates two halves, and questioned how they might have continuity during a complicated lesson or a test. At the same time, they noted that with 30 minutes there would barely be enough time to get through the cafeteria line and eat, much less meet with teachers for questions or counseling.

Students take six courses a day.

"There truly isn't a good enough reason for the administration team to take away seventh period and chunk fifth period into three 30 minute lunches. We can only guess that their hope is to stop people from skipping lunch as much or actually going to class on time," rising senior Darian Sisson said via email. "We already know that more than a few students have said that if they get 5B lunch they will just go home."

Mellin said the school had very few students leave during seventh-period lunch this year. But he added that he empathized with the students' complaint.

"I don't think there's a person you could talk to, me included , who wouldn't want a longer break during their studies," he said. "But a 30-minute lunch is pretty standard."

About half of Pasco County high schools have one, including the new Cross Creek Middle-High School.

Nelson said students want to protest, but worry that Mellin isn't interested in listening.

"It would have helped if he had said, "These are the things we need to do. Let's figure out how to accomplish it,' " he suggested. "As principal, he should be looking at what do the people he represents want."

Mellin said he welcomed the teens' point of view, and he pledged to meet with anyone and respond in writing to questions, too.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek.

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