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updated: 10/15/2013 5:32 PM

Arbiter rules District 15 can dismiss students early on Fridays

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An arbiter has sided with the throngs of Palatine Township Elementary District 15 parents who pushed to have students dismissed early once a week, instead of starting classes later, to accommodate teacher professional development time.

Superintendent Scott Thompson and school board President Peggy Babcock issued a joint statement Tuesday informing parents that the district's roughly 12,000 students will be released early every Friday afternoon beginning Jan. 31, 2014.

In the statement, Thompson and Babcock say they recognize the scheduling change can cause complications and inconveniences.

"Please know that we will work to limit these and quickly move to a smoothly operating school system that provides your child with the best education possible," they said.

They said officials are currently preparing the daily schedule for each school, and those will be sent to parents along with bus schedules as soon as they're finalized. Officials have said no instructional time will be lost. One previously discussed scenario had one school day shortened by 40 minutes and the other four days each extended by 10 minutes.

Parents can expect to receive regular communication regarding the transition.

"In the meantime, please rest assured that we are committed to working together to implement this decision in a way that will positively affect students and teachers, while making an effort to cause the least impact for parents as possible," they said.

The issue began more than a year ago when District 15 adopted a new Classroom Teachers' Council contract giving teachers training time. The agreement calls for a late start unless there is "overwhelming opposition from parents," a clause that wasn't defined.

After months of debate, forums, surveys and a petition, the board voted in April to release students early on Fridays, the option favored by a vast majority of parents.

The teachers union responded with a labor grievance claiming the district and board violated the terms of the contract by shifting the professional development time they're to be given during the school week.

The district denied the grievance, sending the process into arbitration. The hearing before an impartial arbiter from the American Arbitration Association took place in August.

Lisa Nuss, president of the Classroom Teachers' Council, said she was disappointed by the ruling and had hoped the agreement reached during negotiations would be upheld. She's looking forward to receiving the arbiter's full opinion, which she was told has been delayed due to his illness.

Nuss said teachers are anxious to finally implement the development time and was saddened the issue "spiraled" and "got to the magnitude it did." She emphasized the value of professional development time for teachers.

"We'll do our best to make this time effective so that we can make an impact on student achievement," Nuss said. "It will be tremendously beneficial to students."

Thompson and Babcock also underscored the importance of the professional development time.

"We are focused on providing the best education for the children we serve in order to equip them for future successes," they said. "In keeping with that commitment, we recognize that professional development time designed to equip teachers with the necessary skills and tools is vital if we are going to meet the high expectations we have for student learning in the district."

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