In one of the school year's more passionately debated issues, the Juneau School Board passed a resolution Tuesday saying summer homework is the business of teachers, not the board.
By a 5-2 vote, the board said it shouldn't set a policy on homework, but students should know class requirements before registration. The resolution also said some summer assignments are more appropriate than others, but the specifics should be decided by teachers in consultation with department heads and principals.
Board members Deana Darnall and Stan Ridgeway voted against the resolution. They wanted to set a policy limiting summer homework to suggested, ungraded reading assignments.
"I agree it's good to have stimulation in the summer, but anything above a reading list is out of the question," said Ridgeway.
He accused some "rogue" teachers of abusing their authority and called some summer assignments "a fiasco."
Board member Alan Schorr, however, said the concept of summer homework is not evil.
"It's not awful to require students to do some work on a three-month break," he said.
Some parents of sophomores in a block of advanced English, science and social studies classes have complained to the board that summer homework is unfair because students haven't been prepared for the assignments and the teachers aren't necessarily available to help. About 20 parents attended Tuesday's meeting.
"I do not think it's fair," parent Richard Heffern told the board. "We pay the teachers to teach the kids during the school year, and that's the time to do it."
Last summer, about 60 students were asked to write a two- to three-page paper about a play by Sophocles, think about a science fair project, research a figure from ancient Greece and create a scrapbook about the times.
Parents also said summer homework takes away from time students should spend in jobs, relaxation, camps or self-directed learning. They said some of the best students dropped advanced classes because of the requirement, and were concerned the purpose of the assignments was to screen students.
"I don't understand why we are trying to weed out advanced students," parent Raydene Garrison told the board. "I think we should be absolutely delighted we have so many of them and we should be trying to accommodate them."
Since the school district dropped a prerequisite test four years ago, advanced courses at Juneau-Douglas High School have been open to anyone.
Some parents want their children to have the status of advanced classes, but don't want them to do the work they entail, said board member Chuck Cohen. Most advanced classes are like regular classes because of that, he said.
George Gress, chairman of the JDHS English Department, said one purpose of summer homework is to let students know how much work is expected of them. In that sense the homework screens students for motivation.
"The students that are in the advanced classes desire to be with other students who are motivated and who have a passion for the work," Gress said today.
New course descriptions will give students and parents a better idea of what is expected, he said. At the same time, he said, "the discussion has been very healthy for us in considering what's best to offer. We're trying to make it reasonable and manageable."
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.