Aug. 1 school year start too early, Washington County Board of Education members say

Jessica Fuller • Jan 5, 2017 at 10:23 PM

Washington County’s school calendar will have to wait another month after concerns surfaced Thursday about the early start to the school year.

Washington County Board of Education members narrowly rejected the initial calendar offered for consideration at their first meeting of the year after some board members said they felt the school year begins too early.

The board opened discussion on the yearly schedule presented by the calendar committee and voted on by teachers. The proposed calendar had the school year beginning for students on Aug. 1. 

But member David Hammond told the board he gets phone calls from parents complaining that the school year starts too early and asked the board if it would be possible to push the starting date forward a week to Aug. 7.

“We can find a happy medium, but I don’t think that would be Aug. 14th like some parents are asking,” Hammond said. “I’m just trying to find some common ground here.”

Director of Schools Kimber Halliburon said that between two schedules that teachers voted on, 404 chose the calendar with the Aug. 1 start date compared to the 103 that voted against it. Board Member Todd Ganger said start date has been pushed back to allocate a fall break that teachers wanted in the past.

Chairman Jack Leonard said testing has always been a determining factor in the school year calendar.

A Tennessee code, 49-1-606, calls for students in grades 3 through 8 to have at least 150 days of instruction before TCAP testing, and high school students on the block schedule require 90 days of instruction for each semester. That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for a new calendar.

One option is to nix parent-teacher conference days, which occupies a full day of instruction for students, and amend it to a week-long event for teachers to stay from 3:30 to 6:30 after school for conferences, based on other school systems.

The board could trim fall break back a couple of days to make up the time, or tack the extra days onto the end of the year, but that could run short of the required days before TCAP testing. Another option is nixing other days off in the schedule, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day or the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but board members argued that that would garner complaints as well.

“With calendars, you just can’t please all the parents and all the teachers,” Halliburton said.

“We’re going to have a group that’s happy with it, and a group that’s unhappy with it, no matter what we do,” Ganger agreed.

A motion to pass the calendar beginning on Aug. 1 failed in a 4-5 vote, with Hammond, Mary Beth Dellinger, Annette Buchanan, Phillip McLain and Keith Ervin voting down the proposed calendar.

That sends the school calendar back to the drawing board for the calendar committee to appear before the Board of Education in next month’s meeting. The board must approve a the 2017-18 schedule before the end of the current school year.

Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected]. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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