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Parents fight proposed Lynnfield schools schedule change

The prospect of having to get their teens awake and to school 10 minutes earlier and having to find care for their younger children two Wednesday afternoons a month is not going over well with parents in Lynnfield.

A protest by parents has held up approval of a new teachers contract, and one of those involved said the controversy has prompted her to launch a sticker candidacy for a School Committee seat.

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The parents are against provisions in the new contract that, beginning with the 2013-14 academic year, call for school to begin 10 minutes earlier and for students to be released 90 minutes earlier every other Wednesday to give teachers more time for professional development.

Currently, Huckleberry Hill Elementary School runs 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Summer Street Elementary School from 9 to 3 p.m.; the middle school from 7:50 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and the high school from 8 a.m. to 2:26 p.m.

“We are outraged,” said Elaine Gravante, who is organizing fellow parents around the issue. “There was no notice; there was no opportunity to be heard. The people we have elected to represent us and our best interests are not doing their job. This clearly is not in the best interest of the majority of families in Lynnfield.”

Gravante also has launched a sticker campaign for one of the two School Committee seats on the ballot in the annual town election on Monday. Dorothy Presser, the School Committee chairwoman, and committee member Susie Cleary were previously running unopposed.

“I’m unhappy with the process and hope to make a difference,” said Gravante, a lawyer with two children in the school system.

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Gravante and others have been reaching out to parents since learning that the schedule change would be part of the new teachers’ contract, which was ratified by the Lynnfield Teachers Association membership on March 15, and had been scheduled to be approved by the School Committee on March 19.

Presser said that to honor the collective bargaining process, the committee could not publicly discuss anything related to the negotiations — including the new schedule — while talks were being held.

“The genesis of this proposal is to benefit students,” she said, “to allow teachers time to improve teaching and learning, and to be able to hold teachers accountable for student outcomes.

“In the end, there’s no plan that’s perfect for everybody,” Presser said, noting that many other districts have adjusted their schedule to include early-release dates. “Our plan was based on what we thought would be best in terms of teachers’ professional development.”

A large group of parents showed up at the March 19 meeting, and approximately 20 spoke against the schedule change. In the face of public response, the School Committee opted not to approve the contract, though it may revisit the issue at its meeting next Tuesday.

The parents have posted an online petition protesting the change that included 363 names as of this past Tuesday. The petition offers an alternate plan: a half-day once a month, on a Friday; and putting the extra 10 minutes at the end of the school day instead of the beginning.

In response to parental concerns, the schools scheduled two public information sessions this week, including Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Summer Street School.

“This is something that affects every single family in town,” said parent Kim Martin, “Lynnfield is considered a pretty affluent town, but we have families that are struggling just like anywhere else.”

Gravante and Martin said that residents have generously supported Lynnfield schools with Proposition 2½ tax overrides in the past, and parents don’t object to providing teachers with additional professional development, just the proposed schedule.

“They’re going to have all the kids in town start 10 minutes early every day, when there are documented studies all over the place about the fact that our children aren’t getting enough sleep as it is,” Martin said.

Lorie Kelly, the Lynnfield Teachers Association president, declined to comment, since the scheduling issue is subject to negotiations.

Presser said the committee has not yet approved the contract, “to give parents time to have their concerns addressed.”

Superintendent Thomas Jefferson declined comment, though he said he may have something to say publicly following the forums this week.

While not speaking specifically about the Lynnfield case, Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said boards across the state have negotiated changes in school hours related to professional development schedules. Because of collective bargaining law, the details cannot legally be discussed until the contract is ratified by both parties, he added.

“This happens often, in so many districts, with rarely a blip,” Koocher said.

There is no school in Lynnfield Monday because it is an all-day professional development day.

David Rattigan may be reached at DRattigan.globe@gmail.com.

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