By Joselyn King
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING - People told Ohio County Board of Education members Monday night they "want their summers back," and they strongly oppose a year-round school calendar.
More than 200 concerned citizens turned out for a town hall meeting at Wheeling Park High School to discuss the school district's 2014 calendar, and most indicated they vehemently oppose sending children to school during warm weather months. School officials asked those attending who among them opposed sending children to school throughout the year. A total of 179 people raised their hands in opposition, while just 14 thought it a good idea.
Many present also questioned why recent school years have begun in late August and ended by Memorial Day. They told board members they prefer classes to start after Labor Day, and the school calendar to end in June.
Shani Schellhase said children need time in the summer months for themselves - and so does the community.
"There is such a small opportunity to get our children outside, get them playing ... exercising ... moving," she said. "For them to be sitting in a classroom, staring out the window, wishing they were outside (isn't good for their learning.) We hear from teachers that when spring comes, they get spring fever and they want to be outside."
She said she would like to see the district provide more options for a calendar, including one in which students start school after Labor Day.
"Why are we taking their summers away from them?" Schellhase asked. "They need to be children. They are children - they need that time to grow and do what they need to do."
She also suggested a year-round calendar would be the "economic demise of Wheeling Park and Oglebay Park." Many of those working in the parks during the summer are high school students who couldn't continue in that role if they had school during those months, she said.
Other attendees added that students take jobs in the summer to help pay for their gasoline, car insurance and school-related expenses, and this relieves some burden on their families.
Stephanie Lowe said her children work on the family's farm in the summer months putting up hay for the winter.
"If they have to do this and go to school, you'll find them falling asleep in class," she said.
One parent spoke of children in split-family situations, where a son or daughter lives with one parent during the school year, and the other during the summer months. She saw this as becoming complicated under a proposed "balanced school year" calendar, where students attend classes for 45 days, then have a three-week break.
Other parents said they would have difficulties finding child care during the winter month breaks, and they thought it best children have a set routine.
But one parent present who favored the year-round school year was Lorraine McCardle, the mother of a special needs child.
"Year-round schooling will be a huge help to him," she said. "I know it's hard for you parents to find people to take care of your children. Put yourself in my place, and the parents of children with special needs. There is no day care facility for him to go to. No matter what we do, I have to find somewhere for him to be watched. I work. My husband works. You make changes. It's your child's education we are talking about today. It it comes down to it, you make changes and do what you have to do."
School board members said they were pleased by the large turnout, and board president James Jorden said members had "gained some much needed insight."
The board of education will host a second school calendar discussion at 5 p.m. Feb. 24 at Wheeling Park High School.