Landon Blasts Regional School Calendar

Starting next fall, Westport will follow the same school calendar as 16 other southern Fairfield County districts. That follows a state Board of Education decision mandating uniform calendars in regions throughout the state. For Westport, it means — among other things — a shortened winter break.

A new bill being debated in the state legislature would allow the Commissioner of Education to withhold 10 percent of a district’s transportation grant from any board of education that does not use the uniform regional school calendar.

Last night, Westport superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon testified before the legislature’s Education Committee (members include local Senator Toni Boucher and Representative Gail Lavielle). Landon addressed not only the proposed bill, but the entire uniform school calendar concept.

He said:

I am here today to speak against this latest legislative proposal which would have the effect of imposing severe financial penalties upon those school districts that do not abide by the unfunded mandate regarding a Regional Uniform School Calendar.

However, I am also here to urge the members of this Committee to do your best to undo in its entirety the unfunded mandate of a Regional Uniform School Calendar. After all, this unfunded mandate was introduced into a Planning and Development Committee bill as a House floor amendment without it ever being discussed or commented upon at a public hearing.

Dr. Elliott Landon

Dr. Elliott Landon

The ability of every school district to create its own calendar for its students and teachers had long been a practice in Connecticut before the mandated Regional Uniform School Calendar became a reality. Consistent with the New England tradition of supporting local control, the state legislature for decades has not interfered with this particular local option for school districts. With this unfortunate unfunded mandate, the Legislature has expressed its disdain for allowing any school district in every community to create a calendar based upon its own very special local culture, local traditions, and local needs.

Landon said that the loss of a full week of recess in February has been hard on families that cannot visit  relatives who do not live nearby. For many reasons, those visits are not possible during the December or April breaks. He fears that parents will take their children out of school anyway, to visit grandparents and other relatives.

Landon added:

I know from firsthand experience that the February recess enables the rash of extended illnesses to be broken as school children are removed from crowded school environments where viruses, colds and other illnesses are shared. Additionally, when schools have been closed during the February recess for an extended 9 day period, the savings of fuel during the coldest month of the year have been substantially reduced.

Harsh winter weather plays havoc with school districts. Heating costs are high in winter too.

Harsh winter weather plays havoc with school districts. Heating costs are high in winter too.

The Regional Uniform School Calendar was originally intended to save on transportation costs through regional cooperation and by reducing the cost of professional development.

That proved to be unrealistic, purely wishful thinking, indeed. The vast distances and long travel times between school systems across the state have resulted in generating few, if any transportation savings. In Westport, for example, and all the school districts in Fairfield County, I would venture to say that not a dime has been saved in transportation costs because of the unfunded mandate that all school systems abide by a regional and uniform school calendar.

Landon said that because school districts are required to provide professional learning opportunities for teachers “based on their individual needs identified through the local evaluation process,” that the regional calendar — calling for “generalized regional professional development” — contradicts a key component of the teacher evaluation law. 

Even before Staples High School was founded in 1884, local school districts in Connecticut created their own calendars -- and controlled most of their own education policy as well.

Even before Staples High School was founded in 1884, local school districts in Connecticut created their own calendars.

He continued:

I can share with you unequivocally, that in Westport, for example, the Regional Uniform School Calendar has resulted in not a single reduction in costs for the transportation of students both in and out of our school district, nor have we saved any money at all in the area of professional development.

I would urge this Committee to take forceful action and to recommend to the entire Legislature that the valuable time of our elected representatives be focused instead on far more relevant issues than financially penalizing any school district that refuses to adapt such a calendar, an issue that is most irrelevant when compared to other really pressing issues.

Connecticut Department of EducationFor example, our elected representatives would be performing a much more vital service by focusing on such issues as closing the achievement gap between rich students and students of poverty; ensuring that every student graduates from Connecticut high schools with all the schools necessary to be successful in the complex world they will be inheriting; to fund all school systems appropriately; to fully address the full implementation of the State’s obligation for Educational Cost Sharing; to fix a bilingual education program that limits the ability of the educational community to better address the needs of English language learners throughout the state; and, finally, to place the burden of proof in special education cases where it properly belongs.

Nonetheless, if the Legislature continues to support this unnecessary unfunded mandate, I urge the Legislature to exempt from punishment or financial penalty, any school district that follows a traditional three full week recess calendar in any school year.

22 responses to “Landon Blasts Regional School Calendar

  1. Losing the February break would have eliminated a very valuable learning experience for me. Back in the 1970s, when I attended Staples and was involved in Players, we went to London to spend a week of total immersion in theatre. My family could never have afforded to send me, yet for a modest sum I had a life-changing experience and discovered the wonders of a world outside my own. It was life-changing.

    Since those two trips in ’73 and ’74, I have been back to London many times, and even lived in Europe for 5 years, experiencing the culture, the beauty and the mind-expanding power of international travel.

    Elyse (Evers) Kingery, Staples ’74.

  2. “…hard on families that cannot visit relatives who do not live nearby?” More like: hard on families that absolutely, positively must jet off to Gstaad or Hawaii for winter break!

  3. Our legislators can’t even come close to managing our Stste’s budget … now they’re trying to manage school calendars. Yeah, they know what they’re doing. Not. Way to go Ellliott.

  4. Marcy Anson Fralick -- Staples Class of 1970

    I have never known any school district outside of CT or MA that has two Spring Breaks. Having taught in four different school districts in Colorado, most of the public schools in the western U.S. start the first or second week of August, have a four day break at Thanksgiving, a 2 week Winter break, one week for Spring break either the third or fourth week of March and various other one or two teacher inservice days that can also double as Conference days and provide four day weekends. I don’t know about CT, but schools in CO and AZ must have 180 teaching days, and 1,056 teaching hours in a school year. For most schools in the U.S., February vacation would be an unexpected luxury for students and especially teachers!

    • Susan Shuldman

      FYI Marcy – Westport’s ’15/’16 school year includes 182 days for students and 188 for teachers.

    • Jack Whittle

      “Most of the public schools in the western U.S. start the first or second week of August” – setting aside the question of whether that’s true for “most of the western US” (I don’t think it holds up for CA, for example) I can confidently say I’m happy to be different on that score. But the real question is whether Westport should be able to decide what dates work best for Westport schools – and on that, Elliott is on the right side here.

  5. Tracy Flood

    My daughter is graduating from Staples in June. I am very grateful to have been able to enjoy those wonderful February breaks. We go to L.A. to visit my in-laws every year.

    What I haven’t read about is – WHY is this seen as a benefit? It will make travel even more expensive if more schools have breaks at the same time. In addition many people I know used this week in Feb. to take another look at colleges.

    I certainly support Elliott Landon’s position 100%

  6. David Loffredo

    If you look at the actual calendar for 2017, Westport kids still get essentially a week in February – Thursday the 16th thru Tuesday the 21st. Probably even easier to get cheaper plane tickets.

    The Feb/Apr breaks don’t work anyways unless all your kids are in Public School, the Private Schools have a standard 2 weeks in March, so in any “mixed” family it’s a mess.

    What I do think they need to fix is to change August so there’s NO SCHOOL BEFORE LABOR DAY! In Michigan it used to be a State law to encourage tourism, I think it’s a bummer each year to have to be in town for Labor Day rather than soaking up the last bit of Summer somewhere else.

  7. Armelle Daniels

    I think an important point Dr. Landon made that it not discussed as much in these comments is local traditions/culture. Some districts have larger populations that celebrate certain holidays than others, and conforming to a uniform calendar for every day off may mean overlooking significant regional cultural differences.

  8. Kendall Gardiner Anderson

    Way to go Elliot !
    The fight for autonomy is crucial for any town that wants to maintain its unique character.

  9. Marcia Wright

    The February break was instituted–way back in the day–as a way for school systems to save money by not having to heat their schools for a week in February, which was usually a cold and unforgiving month in terms of weather.

  10. Phyllis Wallitt

    I applaud Landon for speaking up. I don’t see why the state of CT needs to control when we take vacations. Losing a week of February break really stinks for my family and for many others I know. As a working mom, getting off Thursday-Tuesday, which is the plan for next year, is terrible because I would have to take off from work mid week to mid week. It is disruptive (plus I don’t want to be on vacation when the rest of the state is too because of crowds). I see at work how hard it is when everyone is on vacation at the same time- this regulated vacation at the same time for the whole state will only make that much worse for CT businesses. Businesses will either need to grind to a halt during breaks or force employees to forego a vacation to work when others are away. Why can’t towns stagger vacations? I simply don’t get it.

    • David Loffredo

      Most Westport teachers don’t live in Westport, nor do their children attend Westport schools. I didn’t read any of the debate since I’m not effected by it but that must have factored into some of the discussion.

  11. The farther away from you government gets, the less accountable it becomes.

  12. Matthew Mandell

    Way to go Elliot, thanks. Let’s hope they listen. Forcing the calendar is one thing as foolish as it is but penalizing a district is unacceptable.

    You could add to the list the loss of any vacation for spring high school athletes.

  13. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Winter and Spring school breaks aren’t just about the benefits of family travel, but the benefits of local/regional sports tournaments.
    If school breaks don’t coincide, tournaments are impossible to arrange, which means another missed learning opportunity.

  14. Bart Shuldman

    How does this all work? If we worry about what all schools will be doing-do all schools cancel for snow at the same time? Do all schools close for Jewish high holy days? Would some schools want to close for other religious needs/holidays?

    What is the point of all this? Westport has handled the needs of students and families and teachers just fine. Can Hartford just stay out of it?

    Is anyone worried with the state financials in crisis and funds to towns to probably get cut, that the state would try and combine towns into a bigger school district?

    Just had to ask.

  15. Dr. Landon you are 110% right here. The State of Connecticut should worry more about the budget deficit, losing business, stop taxing and lawing (8-30g) towns and communities who try to get it right and do pay their fair share to a sinking ship…