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Survey will ask about starting Laguna Beach school year a week earlier

Survey will ask about starting Laguna Beach school year a week earlier
Community members listen to a presentation by Laguna Beach Unified School District administrators Thursday night at the Laguna Beach High School library. (Photo by Daniel Langhorne)

After a heated discussion between parents and administrators about possible changes to the 2019-20 school calendar — including starting the school year earlier — the Laguna Beach Unified School District board directed staff Thursday night to survey parents, teachers, classified employees and students in eighth through 12th grades.

During a standing-room-only meeting at the Laguna Beach High School library, parents vented their frustration about proposals to start school a week earlier — on Aug. 21 — move up fall final exams to before winter break and close campuses for all of Thanksgiving week. The school year would end June 11, compared with the current year, which ends June 21.

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Kimberly O'Brien-Young, a parent and 20-year Laguna Beach resident, said she strongly opposes holding final exams the week before winter break. She said the proposal would unnecessarily ramp up pressure on her son when he is busy with commitments to the high school cross country team and drama program.

"Maybe it's just my kid, but he loved that he didn't have to stress that week," O'Brien-Young said.

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Several parents characterized the district calendar committee's process as "sneaky" because it didn't include a survey of the community. They also noted that only two parents of current Laguna Beach students are on the 18-member panel. The rest are school district employees, school board members and city staff members.

School board member Carol Normandin proposed adding school site council representatives to the calendar committee because they're elected by parents.

Some parents were frustrated that the calendar changes are being proposed five years after a community backlash against a similar proposal. At that time, opponents voiced concerns about how an earlier start to the school year would interfere with families' tradition of attending the summer Pageant of the Masters and Sawdust Art & Craft Festival, both of which typically run through August.

Peggy Wolff, a member of both the school board and the calendar committee, said the district's primary mission is to support students' academic success and social and emotional well-being.

"We should focus on what's best for students' education, not families' vacation plans and holidays," Wolff said.

Supt. Jason Viloria said the survey questions will take time to develop because they'll need to be tailored to each focus group.

"If you write the survey question wrong, you get the wrong information," he said.

The proposal to close schools for Thanksgiving week, as opposed to holding classes Monday and Tuesday, was prompted by lower student attendance rates on those days. On average, less than 90% of Laguna Beach students have shown up to school on those days since 2014, Viloria said. The school district's average daily attendance is generally more than 95%.

Alexander Kvitsinski, a junior at Laguna Beach High, was one of a handful of students who attended Thursday's meeting. He expressed a preference for starting the school year even earlier than proposed.

"For me, it's an obvious choice to start two weeks earlier," he said. "The extra weeks of teaching and learning will be beneficial."

Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News.

Twitter: @DanielLanghorne

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