By Allison Jarrell, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach Unified School District will survey students, parents and staff about potential changes in the school calendar after hearing from dozens of impassioned parents who voiced opposition to an earlier school start at a special school board study session Thursday, April 12. The superintendent said a decision on the 2019-20 school year start date must be made by July 1.
Many of the parents who filled the Laguna Beach High School library questioned why administrators are considering an earlier start to the school year on Aug. 21. A similar proposal was abandoned by the district back in 2013 after it faced widespread backlash from parents who felt they weren’t part of the decision process.
Superintendent Jason Viloria and Asst. Supt. Leisa Winston presented the findings of a 17-member calendar committee that reviewed the topic over the last six months. The recommendations include a full week break around the Thanksgiving holiday, adding three district-wide non-student days, ending finals before winter break, and starting school a week earlier.
“The interest was to end the fall semester at winter break, and that means starting before Labor Day,” Winston said.
Several parents asked what has changed since a similar push to shift the calendar had ended. Viloria said the board asked for a re-evaluation of the calendar, but board President Jan Vickers said district teachers made the request.
One parent pointed out that schools nationwide seem to be starting earlier, with other local school districts such as Irvine and Capistrano Unified adopting such a schedule.
Asked about the calendar committee’s makeup, Viloria said appointees were drawn from those who were on a similar calendar committee earlier, including those who voted against the calendar change. “We tried to be as balanced as possible,” he said.
Many parents were critical of the committee’s make-up, which included two parents along with district staff, faculty, and board members.
Following the staff presentation, those present split into five discussion groups to query administrators.
In the first breakout group, LBHS junior Alexander Kvitsinski, 17, who writes for the school newspaper, said he felt having the extra weeks to study for AP exams and having a free winter break would be beneficial for students.
While Vickers said student achievement did not play a role in the proposed calendar change, administrators in their presentation pointed to poor students attendance on the Monday and Tuesday preceding Thanksgiving.
Parents in one breakout group also raised concerns about schedule conflicts for students who work at the town’s summer arts festivals, added traffic congestion between trolleys and school buses, and replacing family time in August with days off during “June gloom,” when weather is often overcast. In general, parents from various breakout groups said they felt the district’s process and committee creation lacked transparency.
After hearing feedback and questions, board members asked staff to address questions and to survey the school community about the the potential calendar change. Those to be surveyed include students in eighth through 12th grade, parents, teachers and classified employees.
Viloria said it may take several weeks to properly draft the questions.
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