| Apr 16, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - April 16, 2009 Limestone start date proving unpopularBy Jeff Green

The board of the Limestone District School Board took a second look at the calendar for the 2009-2010 school year at their meeting on April 8. They decided to begin classes on Tuesday September 1, and designate a holiday on Friday, September 4, making for a four-day Labour Day Weekend.

Traditionally schools have started classes on the day after Labour Day, which this year is September 8. In line with provincial requirements, there must be 194 days of school instruction in a school year, and with statutory holidays, Christmas, Spring Break, and professional activity days, school boards across the province have been struggling with the 2010 school calendar.

In the case of the Limestone Board, there is also a transportation factor. The board participates in the Tri-Board student transportation services with the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board and the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic board, and both of those boards settled on the early start for the 2010 school year some time ago.

When the matter was first brought up at a meeting of the Limestone Board in February, a staff proposal to start the school year on September 1 was defeated. That proposal had been worked out after meetings with the Tri-board services, and the other boards.

After two months’ delay, the same schedule was finally approved last week.

In anticipation of the decision, tourist operators have raised the concern that the decision will harm their Labour Day weekend business, which ends the make or break summer season for many of them.

Steve Smart, of Smart’s Marina north of Cloyne, brought the matter up several weeks ago at a meeting in North Frontenac.

“We have summer students who work for us every year, and we depend on them working at least part way through Labour Day weekend. That won't happen if school starts the week before. It will also change people’s vacation plans. As a community, we stand to lose one of the top weekends of the year,” Smart said at the time. “It is something that as a business community we need to address”.

Now that the decision has been made, it is parents and members of parent councils who are expressing their own concerns.

Nicki Gowdy, who is Parent Council Chair at Prince Charles Public School in Verona, said, “My own opinion is that they should move some PA (professional activity) days to the beginning of September and let the kids stay home until after Labour Day. This is also the opinion that I have been hearing from parents”.

There are PA days scheduled for early October, on the Friday before March break, and in April, which would be good candidates, according to Gowdy.

This scenario has been adopted in other locations. Recently the Toronto School Board as well as the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario and the Upper Canada District School Board have decided to begin classes on September 8 this coming fall.

Ann Goodfellow, Chair of the Limestone Board of Trustees, said the fact that Limestone is involved with the Tri-Board transportation means there would have been financial implications if Limestone established a different calendar year.

“Depending on what we decided, we were facing up to $300,000 in extra costs if we had a different calendar. Under all of the scenarios we considered, we were facing at least $100,000 in extra transportation costs if we started school on a different day than the others”.

Goodfellow also pointed out that the early school start would not make the summer of 2009 any shorter for students than summers in the recent past. “For the past five years the summer break has ranged from 64 - 67 days,” she said, “and if we had started the school year on the 8th, that would have made for a 73-day break. That would have increased daycare costs for some parents. As it is the summer holiday will be 66 days long.”

Another factor that led to the decision was the value of having professional activity days scattered throughout the year, which is preferable to stacking them up at the beginning of the year, she said.

The school calendar issue was the subject of two lengthy debates at the Board of Trustee table, in February and in April, according to Goodfellow, and when all factors were considered the board made a decision, which will not be revisited. 

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