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L.A. Unified board unable to settle on long-term school calendar plan

L.A. Unified board unable to settle on long-term school calendar plan
On Tuesday, the L.A. Unified school board voted to maintain -- at least for the moment -- a three-week winter break, which would allow for credit recovery courses like this one at Newmark High School to continue. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Unified students will start school in mid-August and get three weeks off during the winter — for now.

The Board of Education signaled doubts in its thinking on the school calendar yet again Tuesday night, approving only one more year of the current schedule instead of three. In a 5-2 vote, the board also asked the superintendent to survey parents on their preferences and collect data on how early school starts affect student outcomes.

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In the past, schools across the country routinely started fall classes  after Labor Day. In recent years, though, L.A. Unified has joined other districts in starting the school year earlier.

Some families prefer a traditional post-Labor Day school start because it lets them schedule vacations and keeps their kids out of classrooms during the most intense heat of late summer. Some in the Los Angeles school system have pointed out that a later start also reduces air conditioning costs. Such views prevailed in September, when the Board of Education voted to shift away gradually from the earlier start.

In December, board members rejected Supt. Michelle King's compromise to eventually push the start date to late August and reduce the winter break to two weeks. Instead, they voted to start the school year in mid-August, preserving the entire week of Thanksgiving off as well as the three-week winter break.

Student board member Karen Calderon said the early school start and long winter break give high school students more time to meet college entrance requirements, complete applications with the help of school staff and prepare for Advanced Placement exams.

King has been an advocate of an earlier start date, in part because it allows schools to finish the semester before the winter break and gives them more time during the break for credit recovery programs — which let students make up failed classes online or in person.

But board members George McKenna and Richard Vladovic pushed back Tuesday evening.

McKenna said that many parents don't have the resources to take care of younger children for the long winter break.

"We have summer programs," he said. "We don't have winter programs where we feed the kids for three weeks."

King said the repeated discussions about the calendar indicate that the board needs data both on outcomes and family preferences, but warned that those two might not align.

"We need to have an opportunity to really do a deep dive and look at the data over the course of the time that we've been on the early start, which we're happy to do," King said during the meeting. "In the end, it's not going to be clear cut for us."

Staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report. 

Reach Sonali Kohli at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.

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