On the heels of a long discussion last week about which vacation day to return to the academic calendar, the Frederick County Board of Education shifted its focus to when parent-teacher conferences will be held for the coming school year.

Conferences are scheduled for all levels on Oct. 23, 24 and 25 next school year. Elementary and middle schools will open four hours late on Oct. 23 and 24, with conferences in the evening. On Oct. 25, elementary and middle school students will be dismissed 3½ hours early. Conferences on Friday will be held in the afternoon.

The board approved the calendar dates with a 4-1 vote. Board member Mike Bunitsky opposed the move and member Karen Yoho abstained.

The board had asked members of the school system’s calendar committee to survey teachers about conferences and how they should be held. The data showed a near-even split in opinions among the teaching staff. The 50-50 split showed in response to whether conferences should be half-day or full-day, as well as whether conferences should be 15 or 30 minutes.

Bunitsky said the engagement on the teacher responses was good but was not necessarily helpful in making a decision.

“The high school folks, they were black and white,” he said. “[They said] the conference days were pointless or I miss the conferences. The contradiction back and forth was really interesting.”

The board moved the conference dates to earlier in the school year than previous years to give students time to change their grades and teachers more time to grade before the end of the term. The move gives teachers the opportunity to discuss student progress with parents rather than just grades.

The board later voted to create a work group to evaluate how conferences are used. Some teachers use the meetings to learn about local families. Others use them to discuss student progress or classroom behavior. Still others use the meetings to discuss future course choices for the students.

Board member Joy Schaefer said the work group will evaluate how conferences should be used and how it aligns with the board’s goals.

Board member Lois Jarman said the face-to-face part of the conference is a way for teachers to engage with local families. The advancement of technology to give parents the ability to video conference or email teachers should not be prioritized over face-to-face interactions, she said.

“We talk about mental health issues and we talk about teaching the whole child, and just getting to know the parents and what’s going on ... is so helpful in terms of instruction in the classroom,” Jarman said.

Yoho said decisions made by the board to evaluate and change the way conferences are conducted will be helpful in future years when the board could have more flexibility in setting the start and end dates of the calendar.

Scheduling the conferences are constrained by several state laws, such as schools being required to be open for a minimum of 180 days a year and 1,080 hours in a 10-month period. A previous executive order by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) mandated schools not open until after Labor Day and end by June 15. In the 2019 session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill to overturn the order. Hogan vetoed the bill, but the assembly overrode the veto.

Frederick High School robotics team qualifies for world competition

A team from Frederick High School — Cadet Robotics 7886 — hopes to compete at the FIRST Robotics World Championship in Detroit, April 24 to 28. The competition presents students with a mathematics, science and engineering challenge in creating a robot to compete against other teams.

The 10-person team from Frederick High is looking for community support to travel to Detroit. The team has set up a GoFundMe page and is looking to raise $5,000.

Follow Wyatt Massey on Twitter: @News4Mass.

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