Prince Rupert School District contemplating two-week spring break

Changes to the Prince Rupert School District's school calendar could mean a two-week spring break next year.

Changes to the Prince Rupert School District’s school calendar could mean a two-week spring break next year.

While School District 52’s (SD52) board of education isn’t entirely comfortable with the idea, it has agreed to gather more information before making a final decision.

The idea of a two-week break comes after recent regulations put an end to the standard school year calendar issued by the B.C. Ministry of Education each year, giving school districts in the province the flexibility to decide when their schools will be in session.

A prerequisite is districts must consult with partner groups prior to approving calendars each year.

Kathy Murphy, president of the Prince Rupert and District Teachers’ Union (PRDTU), said 69 per cent of teachers voted in favour of a two-week spring break. With the idea resonating with many teachers in B.C., superintendent Sandra Jones said an extra week off in March could help with recruitment difficulties SD52 faces.

The district met with the PRDTU and were told the only feasible way to have a second week off in March would be to add minutes to each school day. Other options, such as starting the school year earlier, running it later or having year-round schooling, would require a significant change to the collective agreement.

Following the meeting, SD52 administration presented two calendar options to the board of education last week. The first follows the traditional pattern of school starting after Labour Day and ending in late June, with a one-week spring break. The second calendar has the same start and end dates, but has a two-week spring break.

Under this calendar, the required instructional time lost during the extra week would be made up by adding minutes to each school day.

Though a majority of teachers approve the idea, Jones said library assistants and secretaries’ work hours could be impacted if the March break was lengthened. Jones said while a two-week spring break is fairly standard in the north, it has its downfalls.

“The length of time students are out of school (each summer) is sometimes considered a concern because school provides structure and stability for many students,” she said, adding there’s a degree of reteaching needed after long breaks.

Board chair Tina Last had concerns about the second option.

“How can you replace a week in a classroom with a teacher by adding 10 minutes to each day. In my mind all that does is satisfy the ministry’s requirements for the number of hours of instruction,” she said.

Trustee Janet Beil was uneasy with the idea of at-risk students being away from school for another lengthy period of time.

“After being on this board for six years studying what happens in our area, I’m very concerned that the two week break is going to have a negative impact,” she said, explaining it would mean students who have unhealthy meal plans at home or who live in poverty would be away from their school’s nutritional food programs longer, a point trustee Barb Gruber didn’t agree was an issue considering students are away from school longer each summer.

Another concern with changing from the standard school calendar was losing more time in the shorter semester, which could affect provincial exams.

The board agreed to send the two options out to the district’s partner groups, including teacher and support staff unions, the district parent advisory council and the Aboriginal Education Council.

Feedback will be considered at the school board meeting next month, with the board deciding on a calendar for the 2014/2015 year.

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