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School board to debate calendar change

Board members to receive update report and hear input from citizens, but not consider any decisions Tuesday evening

The San Ramon Valley school board is set to discuss potential changes to the district's instructional calendar Tuesday that would end the first semester before winter break and shift the start of school back one week earlier in August starting in the 2016-17 school year.

The public calendar presentation is listed as a discussion-only item on the agenda, and the board's final decision is not expected until December, according to district staff. Tuesday's meeting will allow board members to receive additional citizen feedback about the proposal.

The schedule shift sparked debate throughout the summer, with district officials saying many parents, students and staff support the change because of creating a true break around the winter holidays, free from stresses associated with studying and projects.

Critics have expressed concerns about factors such as starting the year earlier in the summer, rushing to finish the first semester before the holidays and the transparency of the district's calendar-review process to date.

The current 2016-17 draft calendar would start school on Aug. 15, 2016 and end the first semester on Dec. 21, 2016. The second semester would begin Jan. 9, 2017 and finish June 1, 2017.

That differs from this year's calendar, which had all schools start on the final full week of August and schedules them to finish up on the second Thursday of June. The first semester ends on the fourth Friday in January.

Tuesday will mark the board's first agendized discussion on the potential calendar change since May, when board members debated the issue but no citizens took part in the conversation.

But residents would turn out in subsequent meetings to talk to the board about the proposal -- but the item was not listed on the meeting agendas, so board members said they could not respond to the citizen commentary.

Initially, at June and July meetings, the board heard from concerned and impassioned calendar-change critics -- with groups as large as a dozen. As the summer progressed and fall began, the calendar-related turnout lessened and featured two to four speakers at a time, some in support of the change and some in opposition.

In light of the citizen feedback on both sides, district officials said, they released a 53-page "SRVUSD Instructional Calendar Exploration Report" with information about the issue, including a "Q&A" aimed at addressing common questions and criticisms about the initial proposal.

Meanwhile, one group of calendar-change critics created an online petition urging the district to postpone adoption of the new 2016-17 instructional calendar. The petition had 591 supporters as of 5 p.m. Monday.

"We need to consider the impact of this adoption," the petition reads in part. "It is advantageous to invest more time, with a deeper look into successful stress-reduction models from other districts, before implementing such a drastic change affecting over 32,000 students and 3,500 employees."

The draft calendar sets spring break as April 3-7, 2017 and a week-long break for Thanksgiving -- whereas an earlier draft 2016-17 calendar (developed by a stakeholder committee) proposed holding classes the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a point of contention for some critics.

The number of instructional days -- 180 total -- would remain the same as preceding years, but the draft calendar has 10 fewer instructional days in the first semester than in the second.

Middle schools and high schools are on a semester system while elementary schools are on a trimester system. The draft calendar does not specify on what days to end the first trimester in November 2016 and the second trimester in March 2017.

Any final calendar recommendation brought to the board will have to be negotiated with the three employee unions because the instructional calendar is bargained every year, according to district officials. The bargaining process is expected to continue into next month, they said.

The calendar-change debate Tuesday is listed among several items on the school board's open-session agenda, set to start at 7 p.m. inside the boardrooms at the district administrative complex, 699 Old Orchard Drive in Danville.

In other business

* The school board will hear an update about recent activities and programs at California High School in San Ramon.

* Board members will consider a resolution declaring November as Native American Heritage Month.

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