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Putting the brakes on the break?: Bemidji school board discusses continuation of spring break

BEMIDJI — Is spring break a thing of the past? Should it be?

The Bemidji school board is considering a calendar for next year that does not have a traditional weeklong spring break. If adopted, the calendar would buck a long-standing traditional of alternating years, one with a spring break and one without.

“We’ve heard a lot of comments … saying that that weeklong spring break really pushes the calendar out a long way into June,” said Jim Hess, superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. “If we have any inclement weather like we did this year, having spring break on top of that would move us almost into the middle of June.”

The school board approved the first reading of the calendar during Monday’s regular meeting, but did so hoping to hear from parents, students and staff members. The final reading of the calendar is scheduled for the March 17 meeting.

“I understand and respect the discussion about potentially not doing that (spring break), I just know that in the recent past it’s kind of been a hard fought-compromise,” said John Pugleasa, school board member, adding the issue has been re-evaluated several times, with compelling arguments on either side. “I want to make sure that it goes out from this meeting that we’re considering moving away from the spring break every-other year … and we can hear some feedback.”

Hess presented two calendars for the school board’s consideration, neither of which included a traditional weeklong spring break but do have days off proposed for Good Friday and Easter Monday.

“We know not many families can truly afford to take a week break or a vacation in March and do something or go somewhere,” Hess said. “Quite often, many of the kids will be sitting idly at home, so we worry about their care, their well-being and we feel it is appropriate to not schedule a weeklong spring break.”

Both suggested calendars again include four early-release days, but they also have built-in “snow days” set aside throughout the school year, including those in the first semester.

If the winter next year is anything like this year, school officials said they want to be able to more quickly respond to missed classroom times.

Those dates include Jan. 19 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) and Feb. 16. (Presidents Day).

The differences between the two suggested calendars were found in the winter break and the last day of school.

In the option supported by the school board, students would get two full weeks off over Christmas, from Dec. 22 through Jan. 2. The last day of the school year, barring any additional snow make-up time, would be Thursday, June 4.

The second option would have students attending class on Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 22-23, but getting out on Tuesday, June 2.

The calendar also called into question whether there might be too much time between senior graduation and the other students’ last day of class.

Traditionally, graduation is held on the Saturday of Memorial weekend, which in 2015 would be May 23. But with other students in class until June 4, as proposed in the second option, some thought that was too long of a difference.

“I think Saturday the 30th would probably be better (for graduation),” said Emma Walter, one of two student representatives on the school board.

Walter said she herself, a senior, is in classes now with juniors and sophomores who are already wondering what will happen once the seniors graduate on May 24 this year.

“It would probably be better if it wasn’t pushing nine or 10 days without seniors,” she said.