School district revisiting calendar: Handling religions and reconsidering Feb & April breaks

by beth on May 24, 2017

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Don’t panic. The 2017-18 school calendar isn’t changing.

But, in the fall, Northborough and Southborough public school committees hope to vote on the 2018-19 school calendar. Based on district surveys, that could look different than recent years.

And the following school year could have significantly more changes.

This spring, the district sent parents a link to an online survey on district communications and the school calendar. The district also posted drafts of potential calendars for 2018-19 and 19-20. The first eliminated religious holidays. The second played with changes to the current school break methods.

At the time, I followed up with Superintendent Christine Johnson about what was in, and wasn’t in, the survey. Her response, confirmed to school committees last week, was that it was just the first step in the survey process.

Johnson told committee members that parents had taken the time to give them pages of feedback to look at. Using that feedback, they plan to create a new survey in August.

The results from that survey will be used in talks with the school committee about the 2018-19 school calendar at their September meeting.

This winter, the school committees adopted a policy change to simplify the process for eliminating (or adding) religious holidays.* And questions in the spring survey sought feedback on eliminating religious holidays.

In 2014, then Superintendent Charles Gobron and a calendar subcommittee proposed eliminating three religious holidays. That was opposed by many residents, and the school committees opted to keep the holidays. 

At the time, Gobron forecast the issue the school is now facing. Current scheduling only avoids Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Good Friday. (Though, winter break is always scheduled to cover Christmas as well.) With increased diversity over the years, the schools have students whose religious holidays, like Ramadan, aren’t exempted by the school calendar. 

Johnson said they have been struggling with the inconsistency of how different religious holidays are treated. 

This time around, the district is seeking wider feedback before suggesting changes. But, according to Johnson, it was suggested reduction of vacation weeks in 2019 that generated the most response. 

The district’s spring survey sought feedback on vacation time during the second half of the year – which currently includes a week off in both February and April. Shortening those weeks, combining them, or replacing them with a March break were among options posed. 

Based on the initial conversations around the survey and drafts, I wouldn’t expect big vacation changes in 2018. (Although, I could be wrong if there is a clear and strong enough consensus from both the parent and teacher community.)

As shown in the draft calendar, the outcome of vacation changes would end school earlier in June. (The initial survey didn’t ask for feedback on the start date, still shown as late August.)

As for religious holidays, Regional School Committee member Lynne Winter asked about the district’s outreach to communities that observe them. Johnson responded, they are reaching out to teachers to understand how it is handled when students tell them they will be observing a holiday, and the impact in make up time, etc.

Winter pushed that there should be a better understanding of what is needed by the effected students and families. The answers on what they need and what that requires of teachers may impact teachers’ opinions on eliminating the holidays. Johnson agreed.

Again, parents will get a second shot at feedback when a revised survey is sent out this August.

*The combined committee discussed the religious holiday issue at their October 2016 meeting. At that time, a member pointed out that the School Policy specified religious holidays. School committees are required to hold readings of a new policy in multiple meetings before approving changes. That issue was resolved this winter.

The individual school committees adopted the redlined revisions below. The changes allow them to decide the holiday issue in a single meeting:

Schools close on legal holidays.

Schools may close on other days as voted and approved by the school committee good Friday, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, if these holidays fall on a school day.

Updated (5/24/17 8:05 pm): Corrected the spelling of Lynne Winter’s first name.

1 Mike Fuce May 25, 2017 at 9:14 AM

Diversity is great, but not the way liberals designate it in their dogma of multiculturalism as religion, which is best described as tribalism (taking from each other) and occupation (rather than assimilating in America), not inclusiveness and assimilation which I support the later. I am not a big religious holiday supporter, but I would not eliminate our United States cultural and religious heritage, yes of the majority, for the sake of the few who are very loud and boisterous in their activism – including the US public school system and US universities. That is how we ended up with President Trump as President if you missed it. The liberals and the very vocal minorities pushed the envelope too far with leftist activist violent activities. I am for making accommodation of course (like Good Friday, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur) for the few Muslims (Sunni/Shia) and Sikhs (Muslim Dhamic Sikhism) and Buddhists (philosophy, not religion), but I would ask to leave the US traditions in place before that too is snuffed out (Christmas in public schools and universities) by this very active and vocal minority. The previous mentioned minorities represent less than 1% of population at this time. Perhaps more or less by a point in our town and district comparative nationally.

2 D. McGee May 25, 2017 at 12:37 PM

To paraphrase, “The hell with those loud and boisterous minorities sticking up for their rights! Who do these people who don’t look or worship like me think they are, AMERICANS???”

As usual, the above post is SO out of touch with this century, and so depressing to read. You say this is why Trump was elected? Well this is also why more than half of the country already disapproves of his performance (the earliest for any presidency in history). This is why his brand of racism and hate will never succeed in the long term, and why the hordes of racists and homophobes who have been emboldened by his victory will once again crawl back under their rocks in a few years when normalcy and decency are thankfully restored.

3 Mike fuce May 25, 2017 at 1:06 PM

Wow all I can say is such venom and hatred and judgment that comes from your posts every time I mention anything balanced. Have a nice day sir.

4 Kate May 26, 2017 at 9:03 PM

Balanced? Respectfully, Mike, you may want to re-read your own post and try to look at it from the perspective of others who may not feel or think the same way as you. Including, by the way, those approximately 20% of Americans who are not religious at all and have had to be plenty accommodating over the years.

5 resident May 25, 2017 at 3:41 PM

We need to think about what the cost associated with changing the school calendar would be. It would require more pay for all staff that works throughout the year. Removing the February break is not a good idea because by then, there is so much sickness going around, the buildings need a break to get cleaned and remove all the germs. Yes, it is nice for the kids to get out of school earlier in the year. Why not push the professional development days to vacation weeks or prior to the start of school and not have those days off? We need to think logically and fiscally if we are going to make changes like this not do it just because.

6 Frank Crowell May 26, 2017 at 11:13 AM

Professional development days during school vacation! That is a great idea. Will not get past the union or union amen corner.

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