TAMPA — The vexing issue of school calendars returned to the Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday. And for once, it had nothing to do with religion.
Parents and students lined up to tell board members they made a mistake in scheduling spring break for April 25-29 next year, just six weeks before the end of school.
"I think students will be so burned out," said parent Corinne Gaertner, whose children attend Robinson High School. "In the long run, it will hurt our testing."
Last month, the board voted to halt its practice of holding classes on Good Friday, after two years of mass absences and protests by parents and religious groups. Next year, the district will use the day as a "conference day" for teachers.
There was little mention of spring break at that time, though officials cited testing — specifically the need to avoid scheduling break right before the high-stakes Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which is held in mid April — as a reason to avoid the break in March.
But on Tuesday, high school students said the late spring break would interfere with their Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests, which are held the following week.
Hillsborough High senior Jasmine Evans said students would be forced to choose between resting and studying for exams and would lose the chance to meet with teachers for last-minute questions.
"I don't think this is fair at all," she said.
Classmate Sarah Varner said she has gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition to move the break to March 21-25. Doing so would allow plenty of time for students to prepare for the FCAT, she said, and also would allow Advanced Placement students time to prepare for their tests and return to school "healthy and recharged."
Parent Debra Faulk said many families view the board's decisions on the calendar as hypocritical, placing the value of some tests over others.
"My sense is the calendar is already approved and minds are made up," she said. "If we as parents took our kids out en masse for a week of spring break, maybe minds would be changed."
Board member Candy Olson said it was, in her view, too late to revise the calendar for next year, with payrolls and schedules already made.
"But I do agree spring break comes awfully late," she said. "I am a little concerned that we're asking students to come back and take such difficult exams. I want to look very carefully at what it does to those kids."
Member Jennifer Faliero said she had opposed the late break and would have sought permission from the state to start the school year earlier if she had known that was possible.
But superintendent MaryEllen Elia said any changes that interfered with the FCAT could be damaging, since that test affects far more children — including seniors who have previously failed and face the prospect of not graduating.
"The spring FCAT is a very serious matter for those seniors," Elia said.
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400.