Later FCAT testing dates and the controversial addition of a "non-student day" on Good Friday are two noticeable changes to the Hillsborough County school calendar this year.
School district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said changes to the state-controlled FCAT dates — a response to teacher and school district requests that students spend more time in class before testing — altered the district calendar.
FCAT dates have been pushed back about a month, Cobbe said. As a result, the county moved spring break almost two weeks later in the year. In addition to the week of the spring holidays, students will be off on Good Friday, the Friday before the break.
The topic of religious holidays has been under debate in Hillsborough County since 2005. The district adopted a "secular calendar" in 2008. But in May, the School Board voted 5-2 to cancel classes on Good Friday.
School Board member Jennifer Faliero said she supports canceling class on Good Friday. Although the non-student day coincides with a religious holiday, she said the district can only cancel classes for a "secular purpose."
"There's no reason to hold classes when there's absenteeism," Faliero said.
This past April, 42 percent of students and 19 percent of bus drivers stayed home on Good Friday, a slight drop from the year before.
School Board member Carol Kurdell, who voted against the Good Friday holiday, said her concerns rest with the timing of spring break and testing. Delayed testing means delayed scores, she said. Late results leave students stressing and teachers scrambling.
"Things get accelerated," Kurdell said. "Recognizing that acceleration is just how life is right now. But you also have to recognize that you have to have appropriate respites."
Faliero said she made a motion to move spring break back to March, but the board didn't support it. Faliero and Kurdell worry that these delays will hurt high-achieving students' test scores.
"You have students already out of school in the International Baccalaureate program who have to come back and take exams," Faliero said. "It's going to impact exam grades."
Although the 2010-2011 calendar has already been approved, Cobbe said the district is still negotiating with the teachers union. These discussions could affect dates for Thanksgiving break and early release days.
The district hopes a final calendar will be ready by the time school starts.
Sarah Hutchins can be reached at (813) 661-2443 or firstname.lastname@example.org.