School Committees to vote on recommended calendar changes

Two revised calendars will be on the table this Wednesday with a potential changes to how religious holidays will be handled next year.

Above: NSBORO’s administration is again consider changes to the calendar including handling of religious holidays with the incorporation of “Wellness Days” (shaded purple) that prohibit assignments of homework, quizzes, and tests rather than holidays (yellow) or Professional Development days (green). (images cropped from draft calendars)

The Combined School Committees are scheduled this Wednesday to discuss, and potentially vote on, the school calendar for ’23-’24.

A message from the Superintendent to the NSBORO community explains that they will be presented two versions. Both recommend changes from the current calendar.

The message from Superintendent Gregory Martineau explains that the school calendar was reviewed by a Working Group of NSBORO’s Coalition for Equity.

They made 10 recommendations which included having days throughout the year that supports students’ well-being by having a break from homework, tests, and quizzes. Those will align with efforts to strengthen the Religious Observance Policy and better educate students, staff and families about related rights. 

Martineau is putting forward two versions of the calendar. Although not specified in the message, some of the calendar specifics may be related to, or reflected in, the new Teacher Union contracts that the committees are also scheduled to accept on Wednesday night.

Both drafts take the Working Group’s recommendations into account, but only “Draft 1” fully incorporates all of them. For that reason, that’s the version he is recommending the committees adopt. 

The calendar drafts both include highlighted “Wellness Days”:

No homework, tests, and quizzes assigned. Wellness Days will fall on the following religious dates when school is in session: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali, Lunar New Year, Good Friday, Eid al-Fitr

Those days are peppered throughout the year covering more than just religious holidays. Halloween is designated as one in both drafts.

In the first version of the Calendar (“Draft 1”), two religious holidays currently observed in NSBORO’s calendar (Yom Kippur and Good Friday) remain days off from school. That calendar “provides an 8% increase over 2022-2023 in five-day school weeks, a significant increase in the continuity of learning days”.

In 2023, the first evening of Rosh Hashanah falls on a Friday. It is unspecified how that would be handled in subsequent years for Draft 1, but I presume it would also be a day off. 

The alternate version, “Draft 2” is mainly the same, except that the religious holidays are converted to additional Wellness Days. That version has a 15% increase in 5-day weeks.

There are some unexplained changes in both calendars. (Hopefully, those will be explained in Martineau’s presentation at the meeting.)

Neither observes a day off for Veterans Day. (It falls on a Saturday in 2023, but traditionally is observed as a Friday holiday.) Both drafts instead include a Wellness Day on the Monday following the weekend (which doesn’t coincide with one of the listed religious holidays).

Draft 1 has a Wellness Day on September 26th the day after the Yom Kippur holiday. Draft 2 has Wellness Days on September 18th and 25th but not the 26th.

Another change in both calendars compared to this year is that school will be in session on some election days.

Traditionally, the lower turnout Town elections and state primaries had been held in school buildings while school was in session. Last year, the committees voted to change that and not hold school on days when voters were in the building. (The primary in September was a day off. Other election days in November and May were slated as Professional Development Days.)

The recommendations by the Working Group is to avoid school on “national and presidential” election days but for local and state elections:

Work more closely with safety officials to ensure student, faculty, and staff safety when school is in session

Both versions list the Presidential Primary in March as a Professional Development Day. If the concept is accepted by the school committees, presumably going forward November election would also be a PD day on alternate years but the 2026 state primary would be on a school day.

Years ago, the district consistently scheduled five days PD days. In 2018 the administration presented an introduction of hybrid PD hours that teachers would work into their schedule and lowered the number of official days to four. Since then, the number of days during the school year have fluctuated.

This year, the calendar included two PD days before students started and two during the year. Next year, both versions show three before students return in addition to the one on March 5th.

For years, the administration has grappled with how to fairly handle religious holidays. There was an uproar in 2014 when the administration considered eliminating the three observed religious holidays. Since then there have been multiple looks at how to handle the issue.

Last September, Martineau announced that the school was considering three calendars. He noted:

We must be open-minded and flexible in determining how to balance educational, logistical, and cultural objectives in deciding whether or not to close for religious observances.

One draft was modeled on the current year and two others had different approaches to the holidays, elections, and Professional Development days.  None were identical to the versions now being recommended and there weren’t any days labeled for Wellness. The administration solicited feedback through a survey later that fall (results of which don’t appear to have been published).

The item is on the agenda for this Wednesday’s meeting at 5:30 pm at Trottier Middle School’s Library. The committees are required to vote on the school calendar each year and try to handle that at one of their bi-monthly Combined meetings so that Northborough, Southborough, and the Regional districts can all be on the same page. However, the committee could choose to put off the decision to a future combined meeting (or individual committee meetings).

To read Martineau’s March 3rd message about the calendars click here. Click the links below to view the drafts:

For the Superintendent’s full weekly message, including news on District and School-Based Report Cards, click here

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