Gifted children learn better when they are in classes with only other gifted children, say some Berkeley County parents.

They are members of a Facebook group concerned about changes to the Eagle Program for gifted and talented third- through fifth-graders. The group, "Keep Eagle Soaring All Day Berkeley County School District," has 201 members.

Some schools place gifted students in classes with other gifted students all day, said Archie Franchini, chief academic officer for the Berkeley County School District.

But for the 2010-11 school year, gifted third- through fifth-graders in all schools will have only math and English classes together. During the rest of the day, they will be dispersed into mainstream classes.

Cassie Farias, who has a son who will be part of the Eagle Program at College Park Elementary School in the fall, said she was disappointed when she learned from other parents that the program no longer would run all day.

"Gifted children learn differently than other children," she said. When they are in classes with other gifted children, "they can learn the material faster and in more depth."

Franchini said the district decided to standardize its gifted-and-talented instruction among its schools. He added that under the new system, gifted students will be receiving 32,400 minutes of special instruction each year, which is about four times the amount of time required by the state.

Having only two classes with other gifted students will not hurt students in the Eagle Program, Franchini said. "All students will have to mingle with people from all walks of life."

Franchini also said "it's important that all children receive a high-quality education."

Robin McBride, a Summerville parent whose son was a fifth-grader in the Eagle Program last year, launched the Facebook group.

She said her son flourished in the program, so she wanted to help other parents of gifted children keep it. "He was challenged all day," McBride said of her son. "He felt safe and confident."

Farias, who lives in Ladson, said she doesn't think the school district has given parents a sufficient explanation for cutting back time for their gifted children.

She understands the new program exceeds the state's time requirements but said the district offered children about 64,000 minutes per year of special instruction in the 2009-10 school year, which is twice as much as it will offer in 2010-11.

She also said she only recently learned about the program changes, so she didn't have enough time to consider other options for her son's education for the upcoming school year. But she plans to begin exploring other options and even will considering moving so her son can attend school in another district.

"My son will be taking SATs one day and I want to make sure I got everything I could get for him."

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or dknich@postandcourier.com.