The Juneau School Board will consider whether to allow teachers to assign summer homework for the following school year's classes.
Some parents of sophomores in advanced classes at Juneau-Douglas High School have asked for a policy forbidding the practice. They say the 60 or so affected students deserve a summer break from academics.
"If you could hear the sound of what the initial reaction was when they received the assignments in the mail. It was the sound of great deflation," parent Ken Mattson said at Tuesday's board meeting.
Summer homework is a common practice nationally, said teachers in the advanced sophomore block of English, social studies and science classes at JDHS. They wanted to start the school year running and have an early indication of students' writing and research skills. After hearing parents' complaints in the summer, the teachers extended the due dates into the school year and staggered them.
"I wanted to get going the first day of school and have writing samples of each of my students in the advanced class, and be able to give them immediate feedback in the first week," said English teacher Karin Reyes.
Diane DeSloover, a parent and an elementary school teacher, told the board one daughter going into her senior year was assigned two books to read and an essay due the first day of class. Another daughter was mailed a homework assignment in June.
DeSloover said she was shocked teachers wanted a critical analysis of a difficult piece of literature and a research project, with no guidance, and weren't available in the summer.
"How can teachers claim the time of their future students in the summer when school is not in session?" she asked the board.
Many parents of the affected students believe their children need rest from the rigor of a diploma-based education, said Michael Croan, a teacher of advanced students at Floyd Dryden Middle School and a parent. Parents want their children to learn about work, explore their own interests and spend time with family and friends, he said.
Other parents said the summer homework created stress and caused some students to want to drop advanced classes.
But Linda Thibodeau, a parent and a librarian at JDHS, supported the summer homework, which she said took up about an hour a week.
"We were delighted," she said about her son's assignments. "We felt he didn't need to go on an intellectual vacation for the whole summer. ... Children who take advanced classes should expect to work harder and learn more."
Reyes asked students to read Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex" and write a two- to three-page essay. Social studies teacher Maureen Crosby asked students to research a person from ancient Greece and compile a scrapbook of significant items that existed in the subject's life. She said it would take up to eight hours to do the assignment. Science teacher Jonathan Smith asked for science fair topics.
Crosby said she was available all summer to students and parents. She fielded many phone calls at home and answered e-mails.
"I didn't mean for it to be torture. I meant to start the year with a bang and to assess their needs quickly," Crosby said.
The school board referred the issue to its Program Evaluation Committee. The board expects to set a policy before the end of the school year.