At its Feb. 27 meeting, the District 202 School Board held a hearing to consider requiring attendance on Columbus Day and Pulaski Day. The Illinois State Board of Education requires such a hearing in order for the District to apply for a waiver that would permit student attendance on those two holidays.
Assistant Superintendent/Principal Oscar Hawthorne, who presented the proposal to the Board, said the waiver would be requested beginning in the 2012-13 school year, even though the calendar for that year has already been approved.
“We would widely publicize any changes to next year’s calendar,” Mr. Hawthorne assured the Board. “Requiring student attendance on both holidays will allow for greater flexibility in developing the yearly calendar,” he said.
Mr. Hawthorne presented the proposal on behalf of the calendar committee, composed of a range of community and Evanston Township High School staff members.
The proposed change has several advantages, Mr. Hawthorne said.
• Columbus Day is currently a non-attendance day for students in District 65.
• Attendance on Columbus Day would secure a three-day Thanksgiving break every school year, which many ETHS families value.
• Attendance on Pulaski Day would ensure three consecutive days of school leading up to parent-teacher conferences the first week in March.
Board member Gretchen Livingston said she was disappointed that a question about this matter had not been included in the recently distributed parent survey that asked for input on District goals. She said she had served on the D65 calendar committee for a number of years and felt strongly that “we need more consistency and a more regular schedule.”
Ms. Livingston reported she had received some feedback from parents who opposed the change on the grounds that “high school kids are tired and it’s nice to have a break.” Although Ms. Livingston said that she was not yet ready to decide how she would vote on the matter, she said she felt the proposal ensured that the school would have “preserved a sufficient number of days off and scheduled appropriately.”
Board member Deborah Graham said that she was concerned about students’ ability to do college visits if the Columbus Day holiday was eliminated in lieu of a day off before Thanksgiving. She said that time of year was not appropriate for college visits, and neither was winter break.
Mr. Hawthorne said the District permits students to take time off from school for the purpose of college visits without any penalty.
Board member Jonathan Baum suggested that a day off on a Friday after teacher conferences might mean a reduction in the number of parents attending the conferences, as families might take a four-day weekend. Mr. Hawthorne said other area districts followed a Friday-off-after-conference model and had not seen a problem with parents opting out of conferences.
Board member Scott Rochelle pointed out that in his experience “nothing really gets done on the day before Thanksgiving” in the workplace, and he thought that might be the same in the school. Mr. Hawthorne agreed.
“Most teachers will tell you it’s not that productive a day,” he said. Superintendent Eric Witherspoon acknowledged that “many take it off anyway.”
Rhonda Present, who has served on the D65 calendar committee for seven years and is the parent of a student who will be a freshman next year, said she supported the proposal because it helped to “best utilize the time we do have to boost student achievement” by “providing more continuity for students.”
Ms. Present, who is also the founder and director of Parents Work, also said having Columbus Day and Pulaski Day off was difficult for many working parents who had to make alternative child care arrangements. Additionally, the proposal would make the ETHS schedule consistent with that of D65, which would simplify things for families with students in both districts, she said.
The D202 Board will vote on the proposal at their meeting on March 12.