A Palo Alto school district plan to shift first-semester final exams to before the December break starting next year was -- literally -- shouted down by a group of angry parents Tuesday night.
For next year, families can expect a calendar with an August 22 or 23 school start date similar to this year. A teacher-dominated Calendar Committee will be asked to recommend whether first-semester finals should be scheduled in December 2011 or January 2012, before or after the winter break.
Tuesday's near unanimous pushback from parents who crowded the Board of Education chamber derailed a final up-or-down vote on Superintendent Kevin Skelly's proposal to move to pre-break finals.
While most of the five board members made it clear they favor pre-break finals as a factor in easing student stress, they were unwilling to accept the trade-offs necessary to achieve pre-break finals while maintaining roughly even-length semesters.
Those trade-offs require a school-year start date in the third week rather than the fourth week of August; an end date for first semester that pushes uncomfortably close to Christmas Day; a winter break that flows into January, after many parents must return to work; and a May 31 end date to the academic year that would leave many families scrambling for hard-to-find child care in early June.
The alternative would be school-year start and end dates and a December break similar to today's, but a first semester as short as 80 days and a second semester as long as 100 days.
While some parents, and a few students, Tuesday focused their protest on the prospect of finals in the busy pre-holiday period, many complaints revolved around the earlier school-year start and end dates and the spillage of winter break into January when many parents must go to work.
Elementary school parents also complained the calendar shift proposal had been poorly communicated to them.
At one point in the meeting, Board President Barbara Klausner had to restore order after parents jeered Skelly's statement that, "We can discount comments in that a Facebook survey is biased or isn't right, but we need to recognize there is a vast majority of our students who feel we need to have finals before winter break."
The teacher-dominated calendar committee will be asked whether teachers could adapt to imbalanced semesters in order to achieve pre-break finals while retaining current family schedules. The alternative would be a "rollover" calendar for next year, with first-semester finals in January 2012.
Skelly said he will return to the board at its next regular meeting Dec. 7 with a recommendation from the Calendar Committee for next year.
In the course of Tuesday night's discussion, all five school board members indicated they could support a 2012-2013 calendar with pre-break finals if the ancillary sticking points -- school-year start and end dates and placement of winter break -- could be resolved.