Students likely to get Thanksgiving week off
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.
Alachua County public school students will likely have the whole week of Thanksgiving off during the 2013-2014 school year.
The Alachua County School Board did not approve the district's proposed calendar for the 2013-2014 school year, which kept Thanksgiving week as is, with the break starting on Wednesday.
Superintendent Dan Boyd had recommended approval of this calendar over the draft proposed from the Alachua County Education Association, which gives students the whole week of Thanksgiving off and adds two days to the end of the school year.
In a 3-2 vote, Board Chair Eileen Roy joined Gunnar Paulson and Leanetta McNealy in opposing the district calendar. April Griffin and Carol Oyenarte voted in favor of it.
Boyd said if the board voted the district plan down, he would recommend the ACEA calendar at the next meeting.
As expected, the calendar issue proved divisive on the dais and in the audience, as members of the board and audience chimed in.
Since dueling proposals were made public in December, proponents of the "fall break" plan have maintained that absenteeism and lack of focus plague the two days of school before Thanksgiving break. Supporters of the status quo plan have cited child care concerns as an extra burden to parents, especially parents who depend on hourly wages.
McNealy emphasized that the debate did not pit non-school employees against employees.
"When you say citizens — you're representing citizens — I think that our employees are citizens as well," McNealy said.
Griffin had a different take.
"I also represent the people who work at UF, the people who work at Santa Fe and the people who work at McDonald's," Griffin said.
The debate drew passionate responses from a few audience members.
Karen McCann, president of the union, said she spoke to a number of child care businesses, including O2BKids, the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club, who all said they follow the school calendar and would be open on students' days off.
According to comments made last Tuesday night, those against the "fall break" felt there would be a financial burden in having to find child care for those two days.
Sheila Payne, a crossing guard in Alachua County who had a child in public school as a single parent, said she was more concerned for the students who would not go to day care.
"I do believe incidental days off are harder for parents who do not have resources," she said, adding that many kids who depend on school meals would miss out that week.
Marihelen Wheeler, an art teacher at Westwood Middle School, echoed Payne.
"We have many students who have little to look forward to during the holiday season," she said. "Many have only their school lunches to provide a turkey dinner."
Beverly Jones, a teacher at Fort Clarke Middle School, said it's better to have the whole week off because it allows students to spend time with their extended families and, in some cases, non-custodial parents.
Before the vote, Eileen Roy said she understood parents' concerns but had to take into account the teachers' needs.
"I am very sympathetic to a lot of the testimony tonight, but let's not lose sight of the fact that our teachers are working, flat-out, all the time," she said.
About 1,800 union and non-union employees — almost half of all employees — responded to a survey on the calendar. About 70 percent said they wanted the fall break. Of nearly 100 emails sent in by community members prior to last Tuesday's meeting, about 70 were against the fall-break plan.
McCann pointed out early in the meeting that the procedure for proposing a school calendar was not followed. She pointed to the contract between the teachers union and the district.
" … ACEA and the superintendent or his designee will develop a tentative school calendar. It is to be submitted to the board before March 1 and will include an indication of the desires of teachers in relation to the school calendar," she said.
That negotiation never occurred.
"That will never happen again," McCann said.
Joey Flechas is a Gainesville Sun staff writer and Emily Miller is a Gainesville Sun correspondent.