"It was a difficult decision, but the decision was made. There is no calendar that will satisfy all constituents."
Tuesday's discussion came as Superintendent Kevin Skelly unveiled a series of proposed "mitigations" to address concerns about the calendar change, which was approved by a 3-2 board vote in May. Those concerns include uncomfortably hot classrooms when students begin the school year earlier in August, and added stress for some student musicians, dancers and high school seniors who now will face first-semester final exams in December on top of pre-holiday performances and college applications.
The parents, organized under the name Time to Thrive Palo Alto, called Skelly's proposed mitigations wholly inadequate to meet their concerns. Three of the 20 who spoke even suggested the new calendar could lead students to "do the unthinkable," a reference to a string of Palo Alto teen suicides in 2009 and 2010.
"There are lives on the line here," parent Phil Mahoney said.
Board members also said they found Skelly's proposed mitigations wanting, but rather than moving to "freeze the (current) calendar," as the parents had hoped, a majority asked Skelly to refine and improve his proposals to give the new calendar a try.
Under the reformed calendar, the 2012-13 academic year will run from Aug. 16 to May 30, with first-semester finals ending Dec. 21 and a similar structure the following year. The current academic year, by contrast, began Aug. 23 and runs to June 7, with first-semester finals Jan. 17-19.
Skelly said he will return to the board in March with more specific proposals to address calendar concerns, including guidance from students themselves.
Board Vice President Camille Townsend, who opposed the calendar change in May, said the board needs to develop "guiding principles" for the reform.
"Is it to reduce stress? To have more family time? Having principles has served us well in the budget discussion and would serve well in the calendar change discussions."
Klausner characterized the reform as "part of a structure than can be built out in a number of ways," and should dovetail with other district efforts to analyze homework policies and create more supportive school environments.
She noted that 57 out of the 66 public high schools in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties already have moved to pre-break finals.
Board President Melissa Baten Caswell asked Skelly to return with mitigations that "acknowledge the issues and have some responses that will actually help."
Citing a long history of calendar debates in her six years on the school board, member Barb Mitchell said the community split on the issue is reflected in the 3-2 split on the board.
"It's clear at this point that this community is split," said Mitchell, who consistently has supported the calendar reform.
"Some believe this calendar is going to help, and some believe it's going to make things worse."
Mitchell said she has spoken with more than 60 school board members, parents and teachers from school districts who already have shifted their calendars to pre-break finals.
"I think we have more to learn from those folks," she said.
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