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updated: 2/13/2014 6:54 PM

U-46 scraps early start idea for upcoming school year

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After thousands of parents protested, Elgin Area School District U-46 is scrapping the idea of starting classes a week earlier next school year.

People responded in droves to the district's call for input on the proposed calendar changes for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years. The administration recommended classes start on Aug. 13 this fall and Aug. 12 in 2015-2016.

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About 90 percent of comments, submitted through the district website, were opposed to the earlier start to the school year, U-46 Chief of Staff Tony Sanders said in an email alert.

"As a result of the feedback, U-46 administration will be recommending revised calendars for 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 to the board of education on Feb. 24," he wrote.

The administration is now recommending keeping the start of classes same as this year. That would mean classes this fall would start Aug. 18, and on Aug. 17 for the 2015-2016 school year. Preschool classes will begin a week after the start of the school year -- Aug. 25 in 2014-2015 -- also in response to feedback from the community, officials said.

The school board will vote on the revised calendars March 3. They are available online at u-46.org.

The main impetus for the earlier start was ensuring the first semester and high school final exams ended before winter break, officials have said.

This current school year was the first time the district had final exams before winter break because officials moved up the start of the school year by three days.

District administration still aims to have high school final exams before winter break in future years, officials said.

The previous early start proposal also would have synchronized the beginning of early childhood classes with other district classes so that students in all grades, from preschool through high school, started school on the same date. In recent years, early childhood classes started a week later than the rest of the district's classes.

Elgin Teachers Association President Kathy Castle said she does not know how the district proposed implementing the earlier start with early childhood classrooms. Those teachers typically use the first week of school for home visits, she said.

"They were going to take that away from them and have them do home visits before the start of the school calendar," Castle said. "When you are talking about 25 to 30 visits, they barely can get that done in a week when they are not working with kids."

Castle said she is glad the district administration listened to the community's input and acted on parents' concerns.

She added the union does not have a huge say in setting the school calendar and teachers offered their feedback independently, though she didn't know how many teachers participated in the survey.

"I want a calendar that meets both parents, students and staff needs," she said. "If it was a significant burden to parents, I'm glad (the district) shared that. A majority of secondary (education) staff found it challenging to come back from winter break and have final exams. We are not done talking about it, and we continue talking about what's best for kids."

Castle thinks it's a mistake to try to make changes to the calendar two years at a time.

For more information on the school calendar, visit u-46.org/cnt/docs/CalendarFAQs_updated.pdf.

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