SANDY — Parents packed a Canyons Board of Education meeting Tuesday night to urge the board to permit daily schedules that encourage arts education and other electives in the face of new state course requirements.
Parents, students and educators addressed the school board for more than two hours, some urging the adoption of a seven- and possibly even eight-period school day, up from six periods, to accommodate mandated requirements while maintaining electives, language and arts programs.
Some argued groups convened by the district to attempt to deal with the new requirements and school-level processes were not representative, while others said the process respected the different needs of school communities.
“Thank you for leadership and belief in school communities to make the best decision for students, the most important patrons of our district,” said Jen Buttars, president of the Canyons Education Association.
Many speakers advocated for arts and dual-immersion language programs.
Students speaking Mandarin, even a pair of fifth-grade girls speaking French, urged more class periods per day so they can continue to learn languages and explore other subjects.
ZoÃ« Grace Smith, a student at Brighton High School, said as a student who has dyslexia and learning disabilities “the arts were a life raft If it wasn’t for the arts program, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Taking the arts away from youths is like “ripping out the heart of a child. You end up streamlining everyone and everything is gray,” she said.
Joanne Andrus, a music teacher and a parent of six children, said commitment to arts education has eroded over the years, not just under a school schedule pinched by new requirements.
The most talented teachers “will be leaving and who will take their places?” Andrus said. “Our programs are bleeding and then they will die.”
But one Draper Park Middle School parent, Heather White, urged the board to maintain the six-period schedule. “Our test scores show it is working,” said White, a member of the school community council.
Core subjects are essential for future needs in college and in life, she said.
“Ultimately, this decision comes down to more instruction time in core classes, or allowing students to have more electives. As a parent, I will always choose more time in core classes. I want my kids to grasp the importance of education,” White said
The school district launched a review of its schedules after the state added a requirement that all eighth-graders, starting in the 2018-19 academic year, take a course called Digital Literacy.
The State Office of Education has also required that a full year Career and College Awareness class be taken by sixth-graders.
In the coming year, students in dual language immersion class at Draper Park Middle School will be required to take the Career and College Awareness course.
On Friday, the Utah State Board of Education voted to create a task force to study all state-required classes.
It also allowed school districts to apply for waivers of the required classes for the upcoming school year. The task force is expected to complete its work by spring, which will inform any further action by the State School Board.
While some Canyons parents said the state board’s action may offer relief for the coming year, a more thoughtful process is needed in the following school year. Several speakers asked for a parent survey conducted by a third party to assess each school community’s wishes regarding this issue.
Presently, Draper Park Middle School is on six-period school with 60-minute class periods. Moving to a seven-period day – which would create an additional period for electives – would reduce class time to 50 minutes and academic time 23.46 hours for the academic year, according to a letter sent to parents in December by the school’s principal.
It states “scores within the district and Draper Park Middle have shown an upward trend in achievement. The extended time in each class period has had a positive effect on our academics because we have more time to teach the standards and provide remediation within the class period.”
As the issue was weighed by the school’s faculty and school community council, 93 percent of educators voted to retain the six-period school day, the letter states. The council, made up parents, teachers and the school principal, voted unanimously to keep the six-period day.
Late Tuesday night, the board was scheduled to consider applications to change school schedules for Eastmont, Indian Hills and Mount Jordan middle schools from six periods to seven periods each day.