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Solon school board sets date for start of 2014-15 classes

SOLON– The board was evenly split.
Solon school board members Dean Martin and Lianne Westcot favored a later start date for the 2014-2015 school year. Members Dan Coons and Dick Schwab supported starting a week earlier.
The decision was left to board president Dave Asprey.
“It’s rare for me to go in contradiction to recommendations from our staff,” Asprey said, “but having listened to the comments and received some emails regarding the earlier start date and the implications it has regarding a variety of activities that occur traditionally during that time, whether it’s participation in state fair, vacations, work schedules for those students who have the opportunity to work during the summer, etc., I’m actually in favor of a later start date.”
So on a 3-2 vote, the Solon Community School District (SCSD) Board of Education voted last week to establish Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, as the start of classes for the 2014-2015 school year. In addition, since a two-year calendar will be developed, classes for the 2015-2016 year will begin on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015.
Coons and Schwab cast the dissenting votes against Martin’s motion.
It was the latest in a long line of discussions over the district’s calendar, with this one dating back to January when the board voted to approve the 2013-2014 calendar. The first day of classes will be Aug. 20, with graduation May 18 and the last day of school set for May 23.
At that time, board members asked the district’s calendar committee to begin looking at options for the following two years.
The committee members returned two options– Aug. 14 and Aug. 20– and asked the board to select one. “They don’t want to try to work out all of the scenarios until the start date is identified,” superintendent Sam Miller recounted to the board as he introduced the action item during the regular board meeting April 8.
The board members had previously discussed the dates in March with Asprey absent, leaving a decision to the April meeting. Opinions split between a desire to align the high school semester break with winter vacation on one hand and the preservation of summer vacation for families on the other.
State law requires Iowa schools to commence classes no earlier than Sept. 1 and no later than Dec. 1, with 180 days of instruction. To start earlier than Sept. 1 requires a waiver from the state, something almost all districts do.
“The calendar committee recommends the earlier start date,” Miller told the board last Monday.
The two-two split in sentiment led board member Westcot to seek a straw poll.
The advantage of ending the high school semester in conjunction with winter break was significant to Schwab, who supported the earlier date.
With the later start date, school would potentially be dismissed for winter break Dec. 23, 2014, and students would return to classes Jan. 5, 2015. The end of the first semester for the high school would come one week after students return, Jan. 12, 2015.
Westcot said she liked the idea of having the break aligned with the high school’s calendar, but was concerned more about the earlier date pushing back other activities that are usually scheduled in the weeks leading up to the start of classes.
“I support the later start date, also,” said Martin. He said he had communication from parents which led him to feel the earlier start would cut too much into family time and the other experiences that happen outside of school.
“I can see where this is headed now,” Asprey observed.
“I’d like to see the semester end early,” said Coons, siding with Schwab. “The calendar committee and the teachers support this, so I’m going to support the earlier start date.”