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CMS early release days create a buzz among surprised parents

Students will get home three hours early on Oct. 7, the first of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ new early release days.
Students will get home three hours early on Oct. 7, the first of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ new early release days. Staff Photographer

Some Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools parents are doing a double-take as they check this year’s school calendar and learn their kids will get out three hours early on Oct. 7.

It’s the first of four new early release days for students, providing teachers some extra time for professional development (the others are Jan. 20, March 1 and April 20). The school board approved the change in February, but some families say it didn’t register until school started.

At the first meeting of the Collinswood Language Academy PTA most parents were clueless about the plan, said co-president Becca Kucera. Even some staff seemed confused about how it will work, she said.

“We’re going to have 300 other parents who are like, ‘Oh, I had no clue,’” Kucera said.

3 hours early release on Oct. 7, Jan. 20 and April 20

2 hours early release on March 1

Early dismissals are new to CMS, but Wake and other good-sized districts in the Charlotte region have been doing them for a while, said Chief Academic Officer Brian Schultz.

CMS is gearing up messages for parents, which will come from schools in the next week or two.

State Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Mecklenburg Democrat who used to be a CMS teacher and administrator, says parents have been seeking answers since the first week of school. “There’s a lot of things that have to happen in just a few weeks,” she said.

Here are some answers from Schultz:

Where will students go?

Students enrolled in CMS after-school programs, which are mostly at elementary schools, can go there as soon as classes dismiss and stay until the usual time. There will be opportunities for parents to enroll additional students for care on the early release days at $20 a day.

CMS met last spring with YMCAs, child care centers and other groups that provide private after-school care to make sure they knew when to expect the early dismissals, Schultz said.

For older students, parents will have to make sure they know what their kids are doing with the extra hours. Middle schools won’t have any extracurricular events on those afternoons; high schools may.

Will students get lunch?

Yes. “They’ll be doing a lot of grab-and-go that day,” Schultz said.

What’s the dismissal time?

Three hours earlier than normal, except for March 1, when it will be two hours early.

Why is CMS doing this?

Schultz said that over the past few years teacher planning time has been squeezed by the state’s calendar law, a CMS decision to keep elementary students in class longer and the loss of teacher assistants.

“It’s an opportunity to redirect some time for teachers to be able to plan for quality instruction,” he said.

What will teachers do with the time?

Because different schools have different needs, it’s up to principals to plan programs for those afternoons, Schultz said.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms