The Sea to Sky School District is preparing a two-question survey for parents as part of its effort to draw up a calendar for the 2013-'14 school year.
The survey, adopted at a special meeting of the board last Wednesday (Nov. 28), will ask parents whether they prefer a one-week or a two-week spring break and whether the break should be in March, where it has been for the past couple of years, or tied to Easter, which is set for April 6, 2014.
The board, which operates public schools in Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and Devine, must submit a proposed school calendar to the Minister of Education by March 31, 2013. A proposed calendar, though, must be adopted and submitted for parents' and employee groups' comments by Feb. 28.
In accordance with recent legislative changes, boards will be empowered to adopt calendars for up to three consecutive years beginning next year. Beginning this year, the length of the school year is based on a minimum number of hours of instruction for kindergarten, elementary and secondary schools, not a minimum number of days.
Rick Price, District 48 board chair, said at Wednesday's meeting that the board is taking a “fairly conservative” approach to next year's school calendar.
“We're going to have a more complex decision when we come to the point of deciding the three-year calendar,” he said.
As the 90-minute discussion surrounding the survey for the 2013-'14 calendar at last week's meeting showed, the process of deciding on a school calendar that works best for the greatest number of people — students, parents, teachers and school support staff — isn't as easy as it may seem.
The two-week spring break that's been in place for the past three years, for example, doesn't work as well for Whistler and Pemberton parents who work in the hospitality industry as it does for others. March is the height of tourism season in Whistler and it's difficult for those parents to take time off work and get away.
Past district-wide parent surveys have come back with a nearly even split on whether to take a two-week break in March, Squamish trustee Andrea Beaubien said. The surveys have therefore been of little help to the board when it comes time to draw up the calendar, she said.
For that reason, Beaubien argued that the survey should present parents with several sample calendars, with breaks placed in March and April, for example.
Failing that, “I can guarantee you that I know what the results are going to be — 49 per cent to 51 per cent,” she said.
But Whistler trustee Chris Vernon-Jarvis said presenting, say, four sample calendars for elementary and secondary schools may result in a four-way split that would provide the board with little in the way of guidance.
If you ask a two-option question and it comes back 51 to 49 per cent, “that's the way it has to be. Go with the 51,” Vernon-Jarvis said.
Price said he thought it was important to ask parents whether they prefer the one-week or two-week break and also when they'd like to see the break occur.
“Not only do we want people to say, 'one week or two weeks, but also be able to say, 'Well, I like the two-week break if it falls here,'” he said. “I think it's really important that when we seek input, we give people a range of options.
“If [the one-week or two week question] comes back 50-50, well, horror of horrors, the board would have to decide — which is what we're elected for.”