L.A. schools will start later in August but critics still unsatisfied

LA school officials seek compromise over whether to start the school year earlier or later

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday approved the district's academic calendar for the 2015-16 school year that pushes back the start date, but not enough to satisfy critics. 

Under the plan, the first day of school will be Tuesday, Aug. 18 -- later than in previous years -- but the board did not restore the more traditional practice of beginning after Labor Day in September.

The main benefit of the August start is to allow high school students to finish the first semester before winter break. 

"Instruction is best aligned when they do not have … that extended gap during the first semester,” said school board member Steve Zimmer. Despite the vocal critics, he added, "everybody doesn’t hate this.”

"This is an issue that affects high school students in a way that it doesn’t affect everyone else,” said board member Tamar Galatzan, who added that she realizes many elementary school parents feel differently.

Several thousand L.A. Unified parents signed a petition seeking a later start to the school year, saying that the earlier calendar interfered with summer enrichment programs, among other reasons.

In addition, teachers and parents have complained that the district's new calendar requires students to attend class in August, a hot month, rather than in June, a relatively cooler one.

"Imagine if your kids could skip June Gloom and enjoy the warmest weather and water temperatures of the year in August at the beach -- like Southern Californians have always done?" wrote parent Morina Lichstein in an online petition. "Kids from all over the world use our beaches as their August playground. Don't let LAUSD send kids back to school early -- on the hottest days of the year, in one of the warmest places in our nation! It's time for a change."

L.A. Unified School District officials acknowledged that the early start has led to measurably higher energy costs. Teachers say it's also disrupted physical education, because playgrounds at some schools are frequently too hot to use. There also have been problems with air conditioning on some campuses in recent years.

"They keep saying we have to get off the agrarian calendar," said middle school teacher Brent Smiley in an interview. "We aren’t on an agrarian calendar. If we were, we’d be off in spring for planting the fall harvest. We are on the 'Oh my God, it’s hot in L.A. in August' calendar."

The somewhat later start was a partial improvement, Smiley said.  

Various board members had mixed feelings about other aspects of the calendar. For one, it provides a full week off for Thanksgiving and a three-week winter break. The calendar also is unbalanced, with 79 days of instruction in the first semester and 101 in the second. (The district must provide 180 days for the full year.)

The board majority, however, decided that further changes were not feasible for the coming year. The final vote was 6-1, with board President Richard Vladovic dissenting.

Twitter: @howardblume 

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