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posted: 10/16/2013 5:30 AM

Barrington schools set hearing on calendar change

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The Barrington Unit District 220 plans a hearing at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 on an advisory council's controversial recommendation that the school calendar be changed so the first semester ends before winter vacation. The district will also solicit comments online.

The Input 220 Advisory Council recommends school start no earlier than Aug. 20 and end about the same time as usual, around May 31.

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Brian Battle, school board president, said if the board decides to make the change he doesn't know whether it will be for the 2014-15 school year or the following one.

The fact that one of the two co-chairs of the council disagrees with the report demonstrates the contentiousness of the issue.

Holding final exams before winter break means high their time off without the stress of studying, the report says, and there will be fewer three- and four-day weeks with their breaks in instruction; the less-productive review time between winter break and final exams would be eliminated; and the first and second semesters would be closer in length.

Caryn Behrens, co-chair of the council, cited a "lack of educational research to support the change."

"There's nothing to show it reduces stress or has a value for social-emotional benefits," she said.

Several members of the council addressed the board on both sides of the issue.

The school start date would creep earlier and cut into precious August family time, said a letter signed by about 30 families against a change and presented by Kristina Anderson, a member of the council. It would help if the board committed to starting the school year no earlier than Aug. 20, the letter said.

Council members who spoke in favor of the plan often defended and explained the process.

The council recommends starting school between Aug. 20 and 22, saying traditionally it begins between Aug. 20 and 27. Spring vacation will not change, and school will end May 31 assuming one snow day. Students' summer vacation will be at least as long as it is currently. The plan removes the Columbus Day holiday and attaches teacher in-service days to vacations rather than within a semester.

Richard Burkhart, the only school board member who made his position clear, said implementing the change could hurt property values in the district because people would not move there for fear of being out of sync with relatives and friends in other communities. He also said people not directly affiliated with the school district, including senior citizens, should be asked for their opinions.

The report and the slideshow presented to the board are on the district's website at barrington220.org.

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