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Proposed Hillsborough school calendar features day off for Good Friday

TAMPA — A school calendar without controversy? It could happen.

A Hillsborough County School District committee proposed a calendar for next year that elicited barely a quibble from school board members, who reviewed it Tuesday and will vote April 5.

It starts, as the last one did, near the end of August. It ends, as this one did, in early June.

An idea to start and end earlier died because of a state law that makes districts wait until two weeks before Labor Day to begin school.

Officials had considered seeking a waiver from the law. But because the district has several "F" schools, it would not qualify, spokesman Stephen Hegarty said.

Good Friday, which falls on April 6 next year, is listed as a "non-student day." This year, it is a "non-student/conference day." Aiming for parity among faiths, the district had tried keeping school open on Good Friday. But large numbers of students and bus drivers did not show up.

One new wrinkle in 2011-2012: To create as many five-day weeks as possible, the district will call students back from winter break on Jan. 2, a Monday.

Board member Stacy White wasn't sure if that is a good idea.

"I wonder what the absentee rate might look like, and whether or not it will give families a chance to recharge from winter break," he said.

Too bad, said longtime board member Carol Kurdell.

"Surely to goodness, if people are off for two weeks, they can get back to work on time," she said, recalling a time when the committee worried about attendance on the Monday after Super Bowl. "For our students, I just feel that we have to set the example that you need to be in school."

The calendar does give kids a day off to attend the Florida State Fair or the Florida Strawberry Festival, depending on whether they live in east or west Hillsborough.

But Presidents Day is not a school holiday.

White wondered if attendance might suffer on that day — not because of its significance marking Washington's birthday — but because it is a popular time for sports tournaments.

Member Candy Olson restated her belief that the holidays should be used for learning.

"If I had my druthers, we would have kids in school on Veterans Day talking about what our veterans did for our country," she said. Similarly, they would learn about civil rights on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and American government on Presidents Day, she said.

Olson also suggested parents contact legislators about the law that bans the early start.

"This is still an agricultural calendar, folks, and I don't know how many of our students are out in the fields in August," she said. "But it also is cheap labor for the tourist industry."

Board members said their input gave the committee valuable direction and, with luck, will lead to an easy approval process.

It would be a departure from previous years, when issues such as religious holidays sparked fierce public debate. But key areas of uncertainty remain. Among them:

• The district has yet to renegotiate its contract with the Hills­borough Classroom Teachers Association, working out details such as planning time and early release days.

• The state has not announced the dates of next year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, making the spring calendar dates pure guesswork.

• With the Legislature still in session, no one knows how much state money the district will receive. Among other things, the district could offer teachers more time off if there is not enough money for a pay raise.

Despite those outstanding issues, chairwoman Doretha Edgecomb said she was pleased with the process so far.

"There will never be such thing as a perfect calendar," she said. "But I think we've gone a long way to putting out one that communicates the idea that this is an academic calendar."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@sptimes.com.

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Proposed 2011-2012 calendar

School opens: Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Thanksgiving: Monday, Nov. 21-Friday, Nov. 25.

Winter break: Monday, Dec. 19-Friday, Dec. 30.

School ends: Friday, June 8 (dismiss 2.5 hours early).

Days off: Good Friday, April 6 (officially called a "non-student day"); Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 16, followed by another day off Jan. 17; Florida State Fair Day, Feb. 10 (west Hillsborough) or Strawberry Festival, March 5 (east Hillsborough).

Not included in the proposal: Early release days for teacher planning.

Proposed Hillsborough school calendar features day off for Good Friday 03/29/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 10:59pm]

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