APPROVED: Vero Beach High seniors can cut first, last period

VERO BEACH – This year’s juniors at Vero Beach High School will have the option to have a shorter school day this fall when they become seniors. The Indian River County School Board unanimously approved the special privilege.

“I compliment and applaud Vero Beach for thinking outside the box,” Schools Superintendent Dr. Harry La Cava said. He explained that representatives from the high school had made the suggestion of giving certain seniors the option to either come to school late or leave early.

Luke Flynt, speaking on behalf of Indian River County Education Association President Beth Weatherstone, asked for the School Board to hold off on voting on the privilege until the teachers’ union could review the impact on the school’s staff.

Weatherstone, through Flynt, said that the senior privilege program’s suggestion both surprised and alarmed the IRCEA.

La Cava said that he does not anticipate the program will necessitate the cutting of teachers.

However, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Fran Adams, in documents to the School Board, said that if the 300 eligible students took part in the program, it would be the equivalent of 12 classes or two teachers.

To qualify, seniors must have a minimum of 18 credits by the end of this school year, have a minimum grade point average of 3.0, be on track for graduation, have passed the math and reading portions of the FCAT, and have their own transportation.

For those students who qualify for the exemption but don’t have their own transportation, they will be given preference when selecting electives to make up for not being able to participate.

School Board member Debbie MacKay said the program would help empower seniors to make choices for themselves.

“We’re here to serve the students,” she said.

Member Carol Johnson also hailed the school for coming up with the recommendation and the qualifications she said would be a “good stretch” for students.

Currently, the senior special privilege program will only be offered to Vero Beach High School seniors during the 2010-11 school year. If successful, the district could continue the program into future years.

Students could choose not to arrive at school until 8:05 a.m. or leave school at 1:09 p.m. Either way, the students would not be allowed to be at the school during either first or last period if that is the period they chose to skip.

Parents and guardians would have to fill out a form allowing their student to participate in the program.

According to Dr. Adams, the senior special privilege program would serve as an incentive for students to maintain and improve their GPAs and pass the FCAT.

She also said in school records that the program could encourage students to enroll in seven credits each year leading up to their senior year so that they can qualify for the program.

District staff does not believe that the late arrivals or early leavers would disrupt the school campus because many students currently arrive late due to dual enrollment or off-site programs they participate in.

The staff also believes that the senior privilege program would help students improve their attendance because they could face forfeiture of the privilege if they arrived late to second period.

Students could also risk their privilege by transporting non-participating students from campus early or by failing any course in the first semester.

If approved, the school district would implement the special program for one school year – 2010-11 – and would involve surveying students in grades nine through 11 to determine whether the special privilege would in fact serve as the incentive the district staff believes it does.

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