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A Colorado Department of Education audit of Ponderosa High School's schedule has resulted in longer class times and a shorter lunch period for the 2014-15 academic year.
State officials are providing limited information about the audit of the Parker school, and did not directly respond when asked if other Douglas County schools are undergoing the same review. The CDE said the audit is not yet complete.
While the audit may not be finished, it prompted Ponderosa to add five minutes to each Tuesday through Friday class period, and reduce its lunch breaks on those days from 50 to 35 minutes, “so that we are in compliance with CDE's required academic minutes,” according to an early August letter to Ponderosa families from principal Chuck Puga.
“A recent audit by the Colorado Department of Education has precipitated a change in our schedule for the upcoming school year,” Puga wrote. “I understand this is late notice but we have been working with the CDE and our district to make sure we are in compliance.”
Puga did not return calls requesting comment.
The CDE and the Douglas County School District issued a joint statement Aug. 15 that said such audits are commonplace statewide, and are used to determine if students are eligible for full- or part-time funding.
“These audits also review the number of instructional minutes students receive, which also translates into determining if there are enough instructional minutes needed for full-time student funding from the state,” according to the statement.
Ponderosa is among the DCSD high schools still on the block schedule adopted countywide in 2012-13, a change made to save money and decrease class sizes. The block schedule is also known as the "6-of-8," because most teachers hold class during six of the eight periods.
The schedule has been a target of critics, who say it gives upperclassmen long off-periods, reduces instructional time and increases teachers' workload.
The CDE did not respond directly when asked if students on the 6-of-8 schedule may have been short on instructional minutes.
The joint statement notes that high school students' required course loads may decrease as they progress through high school, and that students are allowed scheduling flexibility to meet graduation requirements.
“In Douglas County, some students take full loads of seven or eight courses each semester, while others may select fewer courses to balance their activity, athletic or employment schedule,” according to the statement. “In Douglas County, individual schools monitor student schedules to ensure students remain at full-time status and meet CDE instructional minute requirements.
“CDE conducts these audits of many school districts across the state each year, so DCSD is not the only school district involved in this audit process,” the joint statement reads.
Ponderosa parent Rachael Bunn, whose daughter is a senior, said Puga's letter is worrying.
“I had an internal heart attack,” she said of her response to it. “When they went from 5-of-7 to 6-of-8, we were concerned. We had a very hard time trying to get all her requirements in in the limited amount of hours.”
Her daughter's final-year schedule still leaves her with back-to-back off-periods on some days.
“It's positive in one way because she can get all her homework done during the day,” Bunn said. “The negative is, `Shouldn't she be having some kind of schooling?'”
Former Ponderosa parent Janica Winn didn't like the block schedule, which went into effect when her son was a junior and senior. He graduated in 2014.
“He was off for roughly 2.5 hours in the middle of the day two times a week,” she said. “He made teenager choices. He didn't do his homework. I feel like he was shorted.”
All four district high schools in Highlands Ranch returned to the more traditional 5-of-7 class schedule with the start of this school year.
Parker's other two public high schools — Chaparral and Legend — may revert to the 5-of-7 schedule for the 2015-16 school year.
Castle Rock's Douglas County and Castle View high schools plan to stay on their block schedules.
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