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Board narrowly approves school calendars

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | March 2, 2021 7:00 AM

In a narrow vote, Libby Public School Board members approved academic calendars for the next two years with alternating spring breaks.

The decision, made during a Feb. 22 board meeting, omits a spring break during the 2021-2022 school year, but includes one in the 2022-2023 calendar.

Board members were divided between following staff requests and honoring feedback from parents. The district’s calendar committee recommended the board approve calendars with alternating breaks.

Several board members, however, pointed to surveys and conversations that showed parents generally favored breaks every year.

Under both calendars, students will attend school for 180 days. In the academic year without a spring break, students will have four additional Fridays off of school in May, according to Renee Rose, calendar committee member.

Speaking before the vote, Rose asked the board to approve the alternating schedule and follow-up with a concerted effort to survey parents at the end of next school year. Rose said she was unconvinced that the district’s most recent survey on the issue, conducted in 2019, covered enough parents and teachers.

She also asked the board to weigh the effort the committee put into crafting the calendars.

“I hope that the school board can recognize the amount of work that went into … and the consideration that went into developing the calendar,” she said.

Kyle Hannah, an elementary school teacher, told board members that spring breaks usually fall a few weeks before standardized testing. Bringing students back up to speed after the vacation can be a difficult task.

Hannah pointed out that district staff might see significantly different results were it to redo the 2019 survey. Considering the fluidity of Libby’s population, Hannah said many of the parents who responded might have moved on to other communities.

Board member Alida Leigh said she had heard anecdotally from several parents who still supported spring breaks every year. For split households, the alternating calendars can be especially challenging; Leigh pointed out that with spring breaks switching every year, one parent might get every break under their custody schedule.

Considering the student’s perspective, Sam Rosling, board member, said with alternating spring breaks, only every other senior class would be able to enjoy the vacation. Rosling also stressed the importance of the board showing it heard the response from parents if the district wanted to encourage meaningful feedback. Breaking with the results might discourage families from participating in future surveys.

Superintendent Ron Goodman said most Class A schools in the area have spring breaks every year. Leigh wondered if other districts could do it, why couldn’t Libby.

“I do understand from a teacher’s point of view that can be really hard to get [students] back,” said Leigh. “I had to think that if all the rest of the schools can do it… I feel like we can do it.”

Board members Lori Benson, Jeff Stevenson, George Woodruff and Bgee Zimmerman voted in favor of the calendars proposed by the committee. Rosling and Leigh cast the dissenting votes.