By Amy Orr | LB Indy
Laguna Beach High School leadership students were the accidental stars of the Aug. 21 Laguna Beach Unified School District board meeting. One after another, the young scholars voiced their support for revising the district’s calendar.
Ironically, the students did not intend to speak about the controversial issue. They came to present other business to the board, but stayed to listen and eventually joined the discussion.
In a room full of residents divided by the topic, the teens delivered a clear, unified message—an earlier school year start would benefit high school students, reducing stress through more cohesive scheduling.
Board members complimented the young speakers and expressed appreciation for their input. This was the third time the calendar was an information item on the board’s agenda.
Student welfare has been at the heart of ongoing discussions about the future start date for Laguna schools. After an April presentation and a subsequent survey on the topic, potential school calendar changes were hotly contested at board meetings in June and July. Polarized residents also dominated the floor for Tuesday’s three-hour board meeting.
“It’s become a very divisive issue in the community,” said parent Kimberly O’Brien-Young. Several residents spoke of being asked by community members to pick a side.
Board member Peggy Wolff said she had been threatened by parents because of her support for the changes. She became emotional at one point, saying the threats are “scaring” her.
The board has a difficult job—balancing the desire of many parents to protect family time and preserve summertime traditions, while supporting students’ desire for a schedule that promotes success. These competing challenges have led to multiple calendar revisions over the past four months. The only thing that has been conclusively determined this summer is the fact that no solution will please everyone.
During their public discussions about the calendar over the last few months, Superintendent Jason Viloria and board members presented a new 180-school day calendar with a stress-free winter break and an earlier release date in June. If approved, the 2019-2020 school year would end on June 11, and the 2020-2021 year would end on June 10.
Hunnicutt, Wolff, and board member Carol Normandin emphasized the importance of a “crisp end” to the first semester, with students benefitting from having finals and projects concluded before the semester break. Viloria said the majority of high school parents and students want a homework-free winter break for their children.
With 52 percent of parents opposed to the LBUSD calendar changes, some residents argued that parents’ wishes should carry more weight than students’ preferences. However, board president Jan Vickers stressed the importance of listening to Laguna’s student body. Of the high school students surveyed in April, 54 percent supported calendar revisions.
Tuesday evening, after the parents had spoken, Associated Student Body members offered their opinions. ASB president Cal Nielson, junior class president Luke Gold-Sine, and sophomore class president Sophia Ravenna said they were impressed by the board’s decision-making process and the residents’ passion on both sides of the argument. All three voiced support for a revised calendar and its potential to reduce stress.
Gold-Sine, who transferred from an Arizona school with an August-May calendar, said the start date at his previous school helped students get fully prepared for AP exams. He noted that students will find a way to succeed, even in challenging situations, but he also said “any help we can get would be greatly appreciated.”
English teacher Dawn Hunnicutt was proud of her students and their hard work. As she weighed in on the proposed calendar changes, Hunnicutt said any decision should be made “based on what is best for the students.”
Student board representative Piper Warner agreed, vocalizing her thoughts succinctly.
“If students want it, students should be heard,” she said.