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  Sunday December 21st, 2014    

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School board flip-flops on spring break (11/24/2013)
By Sarah Squires
Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board members seemed willing to consider adding a spring break back into the 2014-2015 school year, but hesitated after reviewing draft calendars that included the vacation time and also extended the end of school farther into June than they would like.

In a split vote in March, a majority of the board opted to remove the vacation time from the 2013-14 calendar, in part in an effort to ensure more instructional days before standardized tests are taken in the spring. The decision was made without formal input from district families, and when the time came to begin planning for the next school year calendar, School Board members asked that parents be surveyed to find out whether a spring vacation was valuable in their eyes.

The results of that survey which was criticized by some district officials as unscientific showed that the majority of parents who responded favored a spring break. Community members and teachers were also surveyed, and a majority of respondents supported a spring vacation. Board members asked the district calendar committee to bring forward two calendar options, both to include a spring break.

But when the board reviewed those options on Thursday, it found that adding a spring break to the calendar meant the last day of school would be June 12. Additionally, the state requires a certain amount of instructional time for students each year; for WAPS and its relatively short school day, the district must offer class to students for at least 170 days each year. With 175 days included in the draft calendars, board members discussed the possibility of a harsh winter that might require multiple school cancellation days due to weather. Board members expressed discomfort with the possibility of adding make-up days to the end of what is already seen as a schedule that extends too far into June.

"We can't have it both ways," said board member Steve Schild, who criticized the board's previous conversation about adding a spring break as lacking consideration for its impact on teaching and learning. If our mission is to focus on educational efficacy, he said, then there should be some educational benefit to spring break if it was to be considered. "We never talked about education; we talked about people's preference," added Schild.

Board chair Mohamed Elhindi asked that a plan be drafted for how school days cancelled due to weather should be made up. WAPS Human Resources Director Pat Blaisdell said that district union contracts stated that unions must be consulted before any make-up day plans are finalized. Additionally, a recently-expired memorandum of understanding between the district and the unions that prohibited the district from making up cancelled school days until at least four full school days had been missed. The issue might be something that needs to be addressed during contract negotiations, she explained.

The board asked the calendar committee to bring forward another draft calendar that did not include a spring break, which will be considered at a future meeting.  

 

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