The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 ratifies earlier start for 2020-21 school year
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 unanimously approved of the 2020-2021 school calendar at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 13 while opposition to the earlier start date continued to persist.
The vote was 6-0, board member John Devereux was absent.
The year will start on Wednesday, Aug. 12 and Wednesday, Aug. 19 for pre-school, and the final day of classes is Monday, May 24, 2021 or Tuesday, June 1, 2021 if all five emergency days are used and there are 176 instructional days for students and 184 teacher attendance days. High school graduation is set for Saturday, May 29, 2021.
Thanksgiving break will begin on Wednesday, Nov. 25 with students returning on Monday, Nov. 30, the first semester will end on Friday, Dec. 18 with Christmas break starting on Monday, Dec. 21 and students returning on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021 and spring break will start Monday, March 29, 2021 with students returning on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 after a spring holiday on Monday, April 5, 2021 which is the day after Easter. The calendar aligns with area school districts according to U-46 CEO Tony Sanders.
It will be the eighth straight year with an earlier start date, originally done by former Superintendent Jose Torres in the 2013-2014 school year in an effort for yearlong schooling, despite past public surveys showing overwhelming support for a later start date. The last survey was done in 2017.
Board member Melissa Owens, who did vote for the calendar, suggested the district move the start date to Monday, Aug. 17. In a memo, the district stated it had received 15 public responses to the calendar with all but two expressing opposition to the early start date, the other two addressing concerns with Thanksgiving break and the final day of school.
“I’m still really concerned about the slide into the second week of August where traditionally we’ve been in the third week of August,” Owens said. “It’s early, it’s really early.”
Owens later added: “The feedback that I’ve gotten consistently is that first day start and how early it is.”
Regarding the first day of school, Owens asked why start on a Wednesday rather than a Monday to which Sanders said there are operational challenges and starting on Wednesday allows the first two days of the week to be used for professional development.
“By and large, I think most everybody appreciates starting midweek and it helps us out operationally,” Sanders suggested.
Sue Kerr, the board’s president, said the earlier start date allows for high school students to take finals before Christmas break, the traditional reason used in contrast to the public’s wishes.
However, finals appear to no longer be a factor at all as a district memo stated “we have worked to eliminate traditional ‘finals’ as a practice.”
“The continuity of learning to finish the semester at winter break seems to make a lot of sense regardless of if we give finals or not,” said Josh Carpenter, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.
Even before eliminating traditional finals, Sanders has previously admitted the district’s own data shows that “it’s not made a significant impact over these past few years academically” having finals before the break.” That was in 2017 when the administration was going to follow the public’s wishes but the board’s majority supported the earlier start date in a 4-3 vote with Kerr along with former board members Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward on the side of the public.
Owens said there was a previous board agreement to do a survey again and she and Kerr suggested one be done next year.
Sanders said “we can” do another survey but cautioned the board noting its 2017 decision.
Board member Veronica Noland suggested the public has been split on the calendar stating: “We have surveyed, we have surveyed many times. And it’s always come back a third, a third, a third.”
However, the three surveys that have been done have shown clear opposition to the earlier start date with the first showing 90 percent of nearly 1,700 respondents opposed to the earlier date, the next 73 percent of 935 respondents opposed and the last survey 73 percent of 4,715 respondents opposed.
Sanders said he would like to get information on how other school boards solicit public feedback on calendars and said he knows of one where the district creates multiple calendars and allows the public to vote on the choices.
“I would much prefer that,” Owens said. “If we could do two versions it would at least give us some options.”
“Some of this is also just a matter of making sure the community feels its voice is heard,” said board member Kate Thommes.
Board member Donna Smith suggested multiple options would not alleviate concerns and admitted the board will likely not listen to the public.
“I don’t want to put things out there just to get voices heard and we’re not going to do anything with them,” Smith said.
Owens also expressed concerns with the final day of school on a Monday.
“I mean honestly, are we expecting full attendance on a Monday as the last day of school,” Owens said. “I assume the answer from administration is going to be yes, but it seems to me to be an odd day to end school intentionally.”
Sanders said historically the last day of school is a low-attendance day regardless of what day of the week it is.
Thommes also suggested the U-46 calendar align with Elgin Community College’s calendar. ECC’s calendar for 2020-2021 has the first day of fall semester classes on Monday, Aug. 24 and the final day on Thursday, Dec. 17 and spring semester starts on Tuesday, Jan. 19,2021 and ends on Thursday, May 20, 2021.