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Emanuel Scales Back Longer School Day

Updated 04/10/12 - 4:46 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard have agreed to scale back the longer school day for elementary students.

The previous plan had been to lengthen the school day to 7 1/2 hours for all CPS students. But the Mayor's office announced Tuesday that effective next school year, only high school students will be in school for 7 1/2 hours, whereas elementary students will be in class for 7 hours.

High school students will also get a break, with the day ending an hour and a half early one day a week.

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The mayor said he made the decision after meeting with parents who wanted more say in the discussion of school day length.

Emanuel said he has listened to concerned parents, teachers and others across the city all along, including those at schools that already adopted a longer day.

"We've been looking at the pioneer schools, we've been listening to teachers," he said. "The people I heard throughout this process were parents, teachers, principals. I regularly talked to the principals – and visited them – that have run the pioneer, because I led the effort; debated, talked about this during the campaign."

Emanuel said, even scaling back to 7-hour days for elementary schools, CPS will be providing a great deal more classroom time for students, given that the district also lengthened the school year by 10 days starting next school year.

"We are gonna go from 170 days to 180 days; from 5 hours and 45 minutes to 7 hours. That comes to 40 additional days of instruction," he said.

At the Disney Magnet School on Tuesday, the mayor said: "The [extra] time is not the goal. The time is an opportunity to be maximized for our kids with better instruction."

The longer elementary school day will include 52 more minutes of instructional time per day, with a total time of six hours in class, and 45 minutes for recess and lunch. High school students will receive 46 more minutes of instructional time per day, the Mayor's office said.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis had a lukewarm response to the mayor's decision to scale back the longer school day for elementary schools.

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"The mayor moved his toe a half an inch from the starting line. He needs to do more, and he needs to listen with both ears," she said. "It is not the length of time, but the quality of time that truly matters here."

She acknowledged the mayor was moving in the right direction by backing off his demand for a 7 1/2 hour school day for elementary students, but she didn't mince words about what she thinks is a failure to come up with a broader-reaching education policy.

"There's no plan. They're just numbers again. There's still no plan. This was never a plan. This was a political slogan. We need to be extraordinarily clear about what that means: nothing. There is no plan," she said.

Lewis also went after the mayor for closing neighborhood schools without listening to input from parents who opposed the closures. She said the mayor has marginalized parents by installing a hand-picked board that goes along with his every wish.

She called for specifics from the school district on how officials plan to pay for longer high school days, while maintaining funding for foreign languages, music, and physical education.

Disney Magnet School 3rd grade teacher Adrienne Garrison praised the mayor's decision, saying the extra time she's had as a teacher at one of 13 schools that have already implemented a longer school day has been invaluable.

"The additional class time has allowed my students to view mistakes as being something healthy; because as a teacher, I'm not simply saying 'incorrect' and moving on," she said. "As a class, we're taking the time to explore different modes of thinking, to interact with different methods of getting the right answer."

Garrison, and her fellow teachers and administrators at Disney, felt they could accomplish nearly as much in 7 hours, instead of 7 1/2 hours.

Many parents – who as recently as yesterday continued to call on the mayor to cut back on the longer school day – agreed.

"The Mayor listened to the parents. We're thrilled about that," said said Patricia O'Keefe, who is on CPS' advisory committee regarding a longer school day.

But not all parents were happy with a 7-hour day for elementary students.

Wendy Katten, co-founder of the parent group Raise Your Hand, said, "Personally, I think 7 (hours) is probably too long for the primary grades."

On Monday, parent groups complained that they were being left out of the decision-making process on school day length. As they demanded a meeting with Mayor Emanuel in front of his office the group Chicago Parents for Quality Education said parents support more classroom time for their kids, but most think 7 1/2 hours is too long.

They called for a 6 1/2-hour day, about 45 minutes longer than the current school day.

Jonathan Goldman, who has children at Thomas Drummond Elementary School, said Monday that school officials should present a budget for the longer school day, noting in Boston and Houston, schools are spending an extra $1,300 to $2,000 per pupil to lengthen the school day.

The union has also repeatedly blasted the CPS plan for a longer school day, saying officials haven't sufficiently explained how the extra time would benefit students or how the district would pay for the extra time teachers would be required to work.

The union was further infuriated when Emanuel and Brizard urged schools to break ranks with the union and go ahead with the longer school day on their own. The schools that complied received an extra $150,000 in funding from CPS, and teachers at the schools received $1,250 bonuses and 2 percent raises.

The union then sought an injunction to block the longer day from taking effect this year, arguing that Emanuel and Brizard violated the union's contract by allowing some schools to break ranks.

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