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Spring break proposal divides school board

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | February 16, 2021 7:00 AM

A plan to transition to school calendars with spring breaks every other year has sparked division among Libby Public School officials. After debating the issue during a Feb. 8 meeting, school board members decided to table the proposal.

Board members were torn between upholding staff recommendations and following requests from parents.

Sam Hannah, an elementary school teacher who spoke at the meeting, said educators are generally against spring breaks. Bringing students back into classrooms after the weeklong vacation can be challenging for teachers.

“When kids come back from spring break, they’re ready for summer and it’s a nightmare to try and get them back into a routine,” said Hannah.

Hannah, along with the school district’s calendar committee, recommended the school board adopt calendars without a break in the 2021-2022 school year and with a break in the 2022-2023 school year.

School board member Alida Leigh said she had heard from community members that parents tend to be in favor of spring breaks every year. Considering herself a representative of the community on the board, Leigh said she wanted to see a spring break in next year’s calendar.

“I feel horrible about overriding the committee,” she said. “But also as a representative, I can’t sit here and be like, ‘Sure let’s do it,’ when I feel like it goes against the response I got.”

Jim Germany, assistant principal of the Libby Middle High School, said a survey conducted two years ago showed that between 65 and 70 percent of parents were in favor of spring breaks. Staff members were evenly divided over the issue at the time.

School board member Sam Rosling said he felt the board should uphold the results of the survey. Were the board to decide against it, parents might be reluctant to contribute to future surveys.

“That’s how you get people to not participate in surveys,” he said. “They see the results and they go, ‘Why did I do this?’”

Bgee Zimmerman, school board member, said she felt split over the issue. She didn’t want to overrule the decision of teachers and administrators on the calendar committee but understood where parents were coming from. Ultimately, she felt sympathetic for the educators.

“I'm thinking of it — and I strictly have my teacher hat on right now — I’m thinking that every time we have a spring break that time of year, the kids come back … and they’re gone,” she said.

Some school board members, including Lori Benson, just wanted to see continuity. Whether the board decided to have a break every year or every other year, she hoped the district could maintain the pattern for eight to 10 years.

Board member Jeff Stevenson said scheduling spring breaks every other year seemed to be the most reasonable compromise.

After the board retracted two motions to vote on the calendar committee proposal, members agreed to table the issue until an upcoming work session meeting.