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By Judy Baum
Kindly let me know where I could find information about rules or regulations pertaining to the amount of time school children, especially in the lower grades, must spend out of doors.
Two weeks ago my column on a similar subject raised a lot of comment and I started to look more closely into the city and state rules.
Unfortunately, I can't report anything definitive. New York State standards on physical education and health do not mention the out of doors! And there is no Chancellor's Regulation on the subject either. Department of Education spokesman Will Havemann pointed to the department's Wellness policy which, he said, encourages elementary schools to have 20 minutes of recess every day, preferably outdoors. But basically the decision of how much time children spend out of doors is a judgment call made at the school level.
Some of the considerations in choosing whether to let the kids play outside, or keep them in, are clarified in a statement sent to principals by Lori Benson, head of physical education at the DOE, and posted on Insideschools in February, 2007:
"Children benefit from vigorous exercise and should be given the opportunity to play outside whenever possible. A number of factors, including temperature, wind speed, and precipitation, should go into determining whether outdoor play is appropriate in cold weather. For example, outside play on a sunny, windless day may be appropriate even when the temperature is below 32 degrees. It is important that children are appropriately dressed before they play in cold weather. Keep in mind that a child with asthma may occasionally experience increased symptoms when playing in cold weather. (Note that exercise-related asthma may occur at any temperature and can usually be prevented by pre-treatment.) Please also consult with your special education liaison or school nurse about the suitability of outdoor play for children with special needs."
We've had such a mild spell this fall it would seem hard to justify confining kids to the school's four walls for five or more hours. I hope that has not been the policy in city schools. Many parents want their kids to go out even in very cold or snowy weather.
Take heart. Since this is a school-based issue, parents may have a better chance to influence policy, than if they try to fight City Hall. Or maybe you need to work both ends of the hierarchy. In any case, it's a good cause.
My daughter just started kindergarten in a public school with a very big school yard. Her schedule is robust with no play and all academics, mostly spent in a very warm classroom. At lunchtime, the kindergartners stay in the cafeteria watching the others play and then are lined up outside in the yard for the last five minutes (again watching the other kids play) until their teachers come to get them so they can begin the next three hours in the warm classroom.
I have spoken to the teachers, the parent coordinator, and the principal about the "why" behind this physically unhealthy and "mean" policy. No straight answers yet, I'm still hoping.
Am I allowed to get my child during the lunch hour and bring her back to school after lunch? When I was a kid this was allowed. I want my young child to have some physical activity during the school day.
Dear Kindergarten parent,
Lunch in or out? There is no city regulation governing this question; it is the school principal who determines the policy at each school. However a principal can't keep individual parents from taking their child out to lunch.
For years and years many children went home for lunch, escorted by their mothers. That was in the "olden days" when women did not work and kids walked back and forth from school. Today it is rare, but not unheard of. There are logistics to work out: You will have to sign your daughter in and out of school every lunchtime. You and the school will have to decide where you will pick her up, what happens if you are late, who will be responsible for her until you show up, and how will you inform the staff of exceptions. Besides adding a layer of supervision, these are understandable concerns for the safety of your daughter. You must work out suitable procedures with the principal and stick to them.
Maybe you would be better off putting your energies to working out how to provide exercise and fresh air for all the kindergarten kids. I polled a few parents and grandparents about the wisdom of taking their children out of school for lunch, they agreed that fresh air is essential to kids. But, mostly they were concerned that pulling a child out would single her out, keep her from socializing with classmates, and from learning how to negotiate the less than ideal cafeteria conditions that most kids face in school.
The Parents Association, the School Leadership Team, and the parent coordinator can work on this problem, particularly if you assemble a group of parents to put the issue on the agenda. At many schools, parent volunteers supervise the recess part of lunch.
In my experience, there are several reasons schools are reluctant to take kids out: lack of supervision for a playground full of kids, and the time it takes to get children dressed for cold winter weather are two often cited concerns. As for your school administrators, they seem to make the effort to get kids dressed to stand outside for a few minutes, but when cold weather sets in the kids will probably be inside the whole time. Parent volunteers can be particularly helpful whether they are there to help kids get dressed for wintry weather, or to help supervise games or other activities.
The Department of Education is making a big push to improve kids' diets through improving school food; officials need to be convinced that daily exercise and fresh air are equally important for health. If I were a parent right now, I would lobby for that.
The Department of Education is proposing changes in existing policies, called Chancellor's Regulations, regarding promotion standards, and the way in which principals and assistant principals are chosen. It is also proposing a new regulation governing procedures for locating or closing schools or changing current building usage. The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on these measures at the Nov.12 meeting at PS 128 in Queens; in the meantime the public is invited to review the proposals and weigh in on them.
The revised state law governing NYC schools renewed mayoral control of the city school system, but modified it in an effort to increase parent input. The law explicitly requires announcement of PEP meeting agendas at least 10 days in advance. In this case, the DOE provided the information more than a month in advance. However, it is not clear how public comments (which are not actually being made public) will make a difference in the proposals or the outcome of the PEP vote.
Links to full texts of the proposals and information about how to submit your comments are on the Panel for Educational Policy website. The new law also calls for a guaranteed time for public comment at PEP meetings, so if you attend a meeting, there is a good chance your opinion can be heard directly. .
Here's a rundown of the proposed new regulation and the changes to existing regulations.
Changes in school building use
A-190 is a new regulation that lays out an elaborate process that must happen before a school can be closed, phased out, placed in an existing school building,or converted for different use. It specifies that six months before the proposed change, the DOE must post an "educational impact statement" detailing how the change would affect current students, the current academic status of the school, and costs involved. This is to be followed by a joint public hearing with the district's Community Education Council and the DOE.
The C-30 regulation governs the appointment of principals and assistant principals. One proposed change mandates consultation with the School Leadership Team before a principal or assistant principal is appointed. Timelines for consultation would be set by the "Talent Office", the department of the DOE that evaluates candidates and generally manages the selection process.
Another amendment to this regulation allows parents and staff to recommend candidates; however, the C-30 selection committee is still limited to rating the three to five candidates presented to it and its choices can be overruled by the Chancellor. The C-30 committee is chaired by the principal and includes parents, teachers, support staff, a representative from the school support organization, and the school partner, if there is one. The C-30 regulation specifically bars parent coordinators from serving on the hiring committee in the school where they work.
C-37 governs the appointment of community superintendents. The proposed change would require that Community Education Councils be consulted in the appointment of a community superintendent. Previously the CECs were informed of the appointment after the fact. Another change names the Division of School Support as the appropriate office to contact about C-37 issues.
A series of additions to the promotion policy A-501, are also up for approval by the PEP. Of specific interest to parents:
- Across the grades, a 90 % attendance requirement has been modified to be a goal rather than an absolute standard for promotion.
- At grades 3,4,5 and 6, principals can hold a student back based on student work, teacher observation, and grades even if the student scores at a passing level on the state standardized reading and math exams.
- Definitions and requirements for English Language Learners have been rewritten to be clearer and more specific.
Our son is in 5th grade at a charter school that's not in the district where we live. What middle schools is he eligible for?
Charter school parent
Dear Charter school parent:
Given the proliferation of charter schools these days, your question is a timely one. We put it to the Department of Education. According to DOE spokesperson Andy Jacob, "students are eligible to apply in the district to which they are zoned and in the district in which their (public, including charter) elementary school is located. "
However, Jacob cautioned,"not all districts have choice processes. Some have all or mostly zoned middle schools. If the charter is located in one of those districts, the student wouldn't have any choices in that district, because there's no choice process."
All applicants should keep in mind there are other middle school options, even if you live in a district that has limited choice: Some schools are unzoned -- open to kids all over the city, borough, or district -- and some middle schools require school-based applications, separate from the district middle school application.
Most citywide schools run their own admissions processes and students need to apply to those schools separately. A few parents have written to ask about Mark Twain, a popular, selective school in Coney Island which accepts students based on their performance on "talent" entrance exams. Mark Twain takes applications from all over the city but, unlike other citywide schools, students who submit the "request for testing" form for the school "will see the Twain programs as choices on the application for their district," according to Jacob. "They'll rank Mark Twain along with their district choices and will receive an offer to one school - the highest-ranked one to which they receive an offer." Jacob said the district schools will not see whether the student ranked Mark Twain as a choice.
Middle school applications are due on Dec. 15, but Oct. 28, is the deadline to submit a "request for testing" form for selective schools in Districts 17, 18, 20, 21, and 22 in Brooklyn, and Districts 24, and 30 in Queens.
I would take the time to tour as many schools as you can. The bottom line is to go after the schools that match your kid. Good luck !
Parents who plan to test their kids for Gifted and Talented programs may attend Department of Education information sessions to learn details about the G&T process, from test to placement. Evening sessions - one in each borough - are held in schools with large auditoriums. Parents generally fill up the seats quickly, so plan to go early. The sessions run from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The first session is tomorrow, Oct. 14, in the Bronx at Roosevelt High School. Next week there are four sessions: In Brooklyn at MS 113 on Oct. 19, on Staten Island on Oct. 20 at New Dorp High School; in Queens on Oct. 21 at Long Island City High School; and in Manhattan on Oct. 22 at Brandeis High School.
Reminder: the deadline to request a ticket to the test is Nov. 6. A Request for Testing form (RFT) is included in the handbook, and you may file it online or at your child's school. You can read the handbook online or pick up a copy at your neighborhood school. Non-public school parents may pick up the testing form and handbook at a Borough Enrollment Office and must file it there. A sample OLSAT test is included.
Handbooks in translations to eight languages will be online soon, according to the DOE. The languages translated by the DOE are Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu.
Let us know if you plan to go. If you do, please share what you learn about the process!
My daughter just started kindergarten at our zoned school in Brooklyn, which has a wonderful reputation. Last week, we attended the curriculum conference for her class, where the teacher outlined what the kids will learn this year. She told us that kids will learn their letter sounds, and learn to count. Well, our daughter is already reading chapter books, and able to add, subtract, and multiply. I e-mailed the teacher asking if we could sit down to discuss my daughter's situation. She denied me a meeting stating, "I just think that at this point my goal is to now let your daughter's development unfold in the classroom." I was very distraught by this response. I have a 13-year-old stepson, and have never been denied a meeting by a teacher.
Dear Distraught Dad,
Kindergarten teachers are usually more open to parent input than you describe, but it is early in the term. Give the teacher time; she has to learn all about the 25 eager new kids who show up every day. Heed what she said in her e-mail about letting your daughter's development unfold in the classroom.
It's a thoughtful comment, she is going to pay attention to your child, and your child will demonstrate her skills under her watchful eye. She is going to notice the books that your daughter brings to school, and her quick response to numbers. She is going to develop a strategy for her and for other kids in the class with advanced skills, as well as work with those who need catching up.
What if she turns out not to be the ideal teacher I just described? What if she turns out to be an inflexible person who doesn't know how to adjust to individual kids? Make certain to attend the parent - teacher conferences next month, at most schools that will be Nov. 9 or 10, where you will be able to discuss your concerns with her.
By that time, you'll have an idea about how your daughter is progressing and so will the teacher. If there is a problem, she most probably will have heard similar complaints from other parents. If her response is still unsatisfactory, it may be time to organize a delegation to see the principal.
But, think about the remedy you would like. Most schools don't let kids change their classroom and hardly any "skip" kids to the next grade. But, kids who are getting bored or acting out should be challenged with extra work. Perhaps she, and others in the class on her level, can be "grouped" to do more advanced work. Perhaps they could sit in on a 1st grade class during math time, or be part of an after school math or reading club.
And of course, don't forget the importance of play. There are numerous studies that show a relationship between play-- pretend and social --and cognitive development. Maybe a remedy you should seek should include more opportunities for imaginative play. At home you can enjoy the fun of playing with your daughter while helping her continue along her fast learning track.
If this scenario sounds too pat, and your daughter is showing signs of acting out or losing interest in school, get the guidance counselor involved. Some schools have grade leaders, reading specialists, or coaches who are there to support teachers and, hopefully, to support you.
One other option: consider applying to a Gifted & Talented program for next year. The request for testing forms are online now and, if she is scores at the 90th percentile or above, she will be guaranteed a slot in a district G&T program for 1st grade, assuming you rank all the options in your district on your application. However since her current school is well-regarded, your family might prefer the convenience of attending the neighborhood school over traveling across the district for a G&T program. In that case, she might be better off, sitting tight where she is. Since she is a fast learner, she is likely to thrive anywhere!
How many classes are teachers supposed to teach in a day? My daughter's class was merged with another. Now she is in a cramped room, with no desks, just chairs, and more than 30 kids. I attended curriculum night and when I asked why they went from three classes to two on her grade level, the teachers said the principal decided on it. Teachers are only teaching five periods a day.
Dear Concerned mother:
It sounds like your daughter's principal is faced with a familiar situation these days -- not enough money to keep class size low. Evidently, the principal found that he could maintain the number of kids allowed in a class according to the teachers' contract by combining two classes into one. That way, only two teachers, not three, would have to be budgeted.
The teachers' contract requires that there be no more than a certain number of kids per class depending on grade level: 25 in kindergarten, 28 in grades 1-3, 32 in 4-6th grade, 30 in Title I middle schools, 33 in non-Title 1 middle schools and 34 in high school. For advice on how to lower class size in your school, or to support a citywide effort, see Class Size Matters, an organization that promotes reducing class sizes. Teachers can file a complaint if the classes are a certain amount above the mandated size, and your school's union chapter may have already done so.
No desks or tables? That can only be a temporary situation. Work with the School Leadership Team and the parent coordinator to solve the problem. If it persists, move up the line with your complaint: contact the district family advocate, the district superintendent, the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy, the director of enrollment, or even the chancellor, until you get results. See our Basics page on Department of Education contacts for how to reach them. You might also want to attend one of your district's monthly Community Education Council meetings. Many CEC's have put the budget and class size on their agenda this year, and, if they haven't you can raise the issue.
Generally a teacher has a six hour, 20-minute day, plus 37 1/2 minutes extra on Mondays-Thursdays for tutoring, and an additional 50-minute duty-free lunch. That usually comes to five teaching periods per day, plus "prep periods" and professional periods which include such activities as one to one tutoring or advising a student club. The actual number of periods varies with the school's level, Title I status, and other variables, such as whether the school schedules seven or eight periods a day, what kind of state accreditation a teacher has, and more.
You can find specifics about the teachers' contract on the UFT website.
If I were you, I would ask the Parents Association to put the issue of class size on top of the agenda for this year. Good luck!
What is the best way to find out about high school open houses and tours? Is there an updated list on Insideschools.org? How many schools should we visit? Are open houses really helpful?
Dear 8th-grade parent:
Attending an open house or tour should be a priority for kids and parents looking for a high school but, try to narrow your list to a manageable number, based on your schedule. Your daughter may be excused from class to tour a school, but can you get a note for your boss?
The high school application allows you to apply to up to 12 schools, not counting the specialized high schools and charter schools. Our advice to families: don't apply to a school you wouldn't attend. Likewise, I can't imagine sending a child to school without first checking it out in a visit. Students frequently venture out of their neighborhoods, and even their boroughs, for high school, so going on a school tour is a great way to test out the travel time and to check out the subway and bus connections.
Insideschools will not be listing open houses by school this year; unfortunately we no longer have the staff to oversee this section of the site. (Individual schools may post tours on our calendar.) The good news is that open house dates are now easy to find on many individual school's websites. If you can't find the information there, call the parent coordinator, usually the staffer who coordinates open houses and tours. Another good source is the high school directory which lists open house dates on many school pages. Some schools, like Lehman, suggest you call the parent coordinator for details, others, such as Cobble Hill School for American Studies indicate a general open house policy and suggest you call the principal or parent coordinator to arrange a visit. Still others, such as Beacon, give specific dates and times. The directory was produced last spring, so some dates may have changed or been added - my advice is to doublecheck with the school before visiting.
At popular schools, open houses and tours can fill up fast so call early. If you are too late, ask that your name be put on a waiting list: high demand may trigger additional dates. Some schools allow you to sign up online for tours; others require that you call the parent coordinator or specify another person. For schools that require an audition, test, or interview there are deadlines for signing up for those as well.
Daytime tours are the most helpful because you can see the school in action. The advantage of evening sessions is that you may hear more from the principal or assistant principal, or even students. However, in the evening you won't see whether the hallways are crowded, the students are civil, or get a good feel for the culture of the school.
The open house season starts in earnest after the citywide high school fair: Oct.3 and 4 this year at Brooklyn Tech. If you go armed with a list of schools you are interested in, you can not only talk to school representatives but you can pick up a flier telling you the dates of the fairs (or jot dates down in your notebook to save paper!) And be aware that some schools give preference in admission to students who attend a school fair or open house. If there's a sign-up sheet at the fair, be sure to have your child sign in. Some schools will e-mail you the dates of upcoming tours.
My son is just starting kindergarten in a K-8 school. If he is unhappy in a K-8 school can he apply to middle school elsewhere? Or if you are unhappy in a 6-12 school can you apply to high school elsewhere?
- Apprehensive Mom
Dear Apprehensive Mom:
The beauty of schools that combine elementary and middle school grades, or middle and high school grades, is that families may not have to go through the tedious middle and high school admissions process and can continue at the same school. However, the answer to your question- are you able to switch schools if you are not happy at a K-8 or 6-12 school? -- is yes, you always have the option of going through the application process at normal school entry points, including 6th or 9th grade.
Some K-8 and 6-12 schools automatically accept current students into the next level. Others require all students to re-apply -- though they may give preference to continuing students over outside applicants. Make sure to find out if your son's school will hold his place if other schools he applies do not accept him.
Transferring at other non-entry grades is difficult unless your zoned school is an option. If not, documented incidences of assault or other real safety concerns or medical reasons, backed up by a doctor's letter, are most likely to result in a transfer. If you move and the school you are attending is more than 90 minutes travel distance away, and requires several transfers or modes of transportation, you can change schools. The downside is that you may not have a wide range of good schools to choose from if you wish to transfer.
Another opportunity to transfer comes with the NCLB law that offers transfers from a failing school to a more successful one. But the choices can be limited and the travel time can be overwhelming. The DOE announces this opportunity early in the school year to students at qualifying schools.
Finally, there is the hard-to-get, but not impossible, guidance transfer. This is no longer an "official" kind of transfer but it can happen on a case-by-case basis. You need your guidance counselor to agree that the school is not for you and to support your request by helping you take your case to the borough enrollment office. Make sure you have a suitable school in mind. The enrollment office has the final say.
But, why are we talking transfers when school is just starting? Unless you have genuine health, safety ,or travel problems, why not make the most of what the school offers? Perhaps a rocky start will morph into a great experience. I hope so.
Good luck and happy school year!
My daughter has been attending school in another state. Now she wants to finish back in the city. She will be going into 11th grade and she's a good student. What are her options?
Dear Puzzled Mom (and others who are new to the city):
Eleventh grade is a tough time to make a change, particularly for high-achieving kids who have been attending school out-of-state. The selective exam and audition high schools, known as specialized high schools, do not accept 11th-graders and many other popular schools generally don't have available seats.
Then there are the Regents exams: kids have to pass five of them to get a diploma. Principals have some discretion on whether to waive one or two exams, based on academic records, but be sure to ask about that when your register your daughter for school.
However, you're not alone; many families arrive in the city after the high school admissions process is finished. Here's what you - and all newcomers - should do.
First, read our information for new families to learn about the city's public school system. Next, research high schools using the Find a School section of our site. You can search by neighborhood and borough, and also by type of high school: arts focus, selective schools, charter schools, transfer schools, and others. Look for schools that the Insideschools staff considers noteworthy, which are marked by a blue ribbon.
Also, visit one of the Department of Education's borough enrollment offices to pick up a copy of the official High School Directory. The directory lists information about every non-charter high school in the city (it's also available online).
With these resources at hand, you can look for schools that are a good fit for your daughter and make sure that she meets the admissions criteria. Even though the specialized high schools do not admit 11th-graders, other selective schools might. For example, Bard High Early College II in Queens has openings for juniors; other schools might also consider a high-achiever with a good record. With an average school record, you can still find schools that are a good match, too.
When you are ready to enroll, bring your daughter, her school records, immunization records, and proof of residency (the DOE has a specific list of acceptable proofs) to a borough enrollment office; they are open now and may be able to give you additional guidance. Later this month, special enrollment centers will also open for students like your daughter, who have just moved to the city and who do not have a high school placement. Look for the announcement on the InsideSCOOP.
Families of students entering 9th and 10th grades, who moved to the city after the last Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) was administered (Oct. 31, 2008), may apply to take the summer test for entrance to Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, Brooklyn Latin, High School for Math, Science, and Engineering at City College, High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Staten Island Tech, and Queens High School for the Sciences at York College by Aug. 27. They may also audition for Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts for September 2009 enrollment. The exam will be given on Monday, Aug. 31; auditions for LaGuardia will be held on Friday, Sept. 4. Eligible 9th and 10th-grade students can register at any Borough Enrollment Office.
If you have further questions, call the central office for enrollment at (212) 374-2363.
UPDATE 8/21: Registration centers for high school students new to New York City, or who need a public school placement, will be open from Aug. 31 - Sept. 18 (except for Labor Day), the DOE announced. See the DOE's website for the sites and hours of operation. Elementary and middle school students who are new to the city, or entering public school, should register at their zoned school on the first day of school, Sept. 9. If you don't have a zoned school, you may go to one of the registration centers.