Broward students can start next school year earlier in August

By | December 18, 2023

Broward students may get a shortened summer vacation next year, under a new proposal to start the school year a week earlier than in the past.

The first day of the 2024-2025 school year would be Aug. 12 and the last day would be June 3, 2025. Under one proposal, the Broward School Board would vote on Jan. 23. The current year started on August 21.

State law requires school districts to start the new year no earlier than August 10. Since that’s a Saturday next year, August 12 would be the earliest date Broward could start. The date would align Broward with Palm Beach County schools, which have started around this time for years. Licata, a former Palm Beach County school administrator, recommended during Tuesday’s meeting that the school board consider the new calendar.

The new school year could also see another big change: four parole days would become full school days. These are days when students are released two hours earlier than normal so that teachers have time to complete their grades.

“The board is trying to maximize instructional time to move us toward an A district,” district spokesman John Sullivan said.

For years, the first semester in Broward stretched into the first weeks of January. Students used to take semester exams in January, but due to complaints that they would forget the material, the exams were moved to before winter break, even though the semester is not over yet.

“It’s a nightmare and it turns out to be a waste of time,” said board member Debbi Hixon, referring to the final days of the semester. “It’s just a weird space. Students don’t know when to get grades. They have already taken exams. It’s just not a nice way to start the semester.”

However, the proposal is drawing some criticism, from those who believe school should start closer to Labor Day and from those who believe this proposal comes too late in the calendar planning process.

Many parents who grew up in other parts of the country view August as the middle of summer rather than a time when school starts. And there are those who send their children to sleepaway camps up north, where August end dates conflict with the opening of schools in South Florida.

“Holidays are planned. People are going back to visit people back home, and there are a good number of students who don’t show up until after Labor Day,” said Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, who serves on the district’s scheduling committee.

Another concern cited by some calendar committee members is that the school board wants to undo the work of a district calendar committee. The committee had been working on the proposed calendar since April.

“It’s quite late in the year for us to completely revamp the calendar,” said Cynthia Dominique, a Margate parent who serves on the committee. “We have numerous bargaining units that need to provide input, so that’s a pretty big ask in December.”

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The district gave the calendar committee several options to consider, but none included an Aug. 12 start date, Dominique said. A survey sent to the community in October also did not include this option.

About 41,000 parents, students and school staff responded to the survey, which included two choices: one that would start the new year on Wednesday, August 14, and another that would start on Monday, August 19. at the top with 57% of the votes.

School board member Jeff Holness said the proposed calendar change should wait until the 2025-2026 school year to allow for more input from the calendar committee and the community.

“This process took quite some time. We have received extensive input from stakeholders,” Holness said. “I believe that any change we make now would be disrespectful to the public and to our stakeholders, who have overwhelmingly shown the option they prefer.”

Licata said he did not want to ignore the calendar committee’s work. “But as an educator, someone who spent many years in the classroom and many years running schools, it’s so hard to get any educational value out of that time after a break.”

Landyn Spellberg, a national student government leader, welcomes the proposed change, calling it “student-centered.”

“Middle and high school students, along with teachers and administrators, have expressed concerns about the end of the first semester after winter break,” said Spellberg, a sophomore at Western High in Davie. “The proposed calendar ensures that students can return from the break and start the second semester. The proposed timing of the end of the semester has clear educational and operational benefits.”

The school board considered approving the new calendar during Tuesday’s meeting, but decided to give the calendar committee time to review it. The committee met Wednesday and another meeting was scheduled for January. The school board’s final vote is scheduled for Jan. 23.

The school board supported another change Tuesday: converting four days of parole to full days, but that would be subject to collective bargaining with the Broward Teachers Union.

Currently, students leave school two hours early at the end of each nine-week marking period to give teachers time to work on their grades. The next day, students have a full day off during which teachers finalize their grades and complete professional development.

Several board members said they believe the parole days are not the best for students as the district continues to struggle academically with the “COVID slide,” referring to learning loss for students who did not attend school in person during the pandemic.

“I think we should definitely ask for some extra academic time,” said board member Torey Alston.

Board member Allen Zeman added, “The more we can align our behavior with our goals, the more likely we are to achieve the results we are looking for.”

The issue is expected to be discussed at a teachers union bargaining session on Monday. Fusco seems reluctant to support it.

“They don’t realize what this means for teachers,” Fusco said. “They hardly have time to plan and assess throughout the working day. They have to meet professional development expectations and now you want to take away the two hours you gave us to help us assess?”

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