Based on the results of an ELPS online parent survey, the East Longmeadow School Committee recently adopted next school year's calendar favoring an after Labor Day start. By a secure and confidential ballot, 76% of the ELPS staff indicated a preference to start classes during the week before Labor Day. The Committee's decision to ignore educational staff input on this important question has caused us considerable concern and we are using this opportunity to express both our side of the story as well as tell the rest of the story.
There are several valid reasons why school employees overwhelmingly chose to start classes on Sept. 1. First, with a Sept. 8 start, the last day of school, assuming five make up days for inclement weather, would be June 29. Due to the poor learning environment caused by heat, humidity and the lack of classroom air conditioning, school days in June should be kept to a minimum. We reject the notion of a three school day difference in calendars as insignificant. In our opinion, time spent in school in the fall is far more educationally productive than instructional days in June. In addition, an earlier start guarantees additional time for MCAS test preparation. Furthermore, a pre-Labor Day start allows for a gradual and smooth transition for all students, particularly those entering a new building.
We also feel that the parent survey was both statistically invalid and based on incomplete information. The question stated in the online survey was: "We have used the first day of school in both formats before Labor Day (August), and after Labor Day (September). As a parent, which do you prefer? The 519 tallied responses 41% for before Labor Day and 59% for after Labor Day are in apparent conflict with the 76% of entire ELPS staff that voted to start before Labor Day.
The East Longmeadow Education Association has reservations about the methodology used. First, the survey was neither scientific nor secure. Anyone with computer access could have filled out the online survey multiple times as long as they used a different computer. Second, it is impossible to tell how many actual households or parents are represented in this survey. Third, we object to the question being asked generically as opposed to being posed with actual start dates, which vary from year to year. By suggesting in the question "before Labor Day (August) and after Labor Day (September)", the survey item introduced bias by suggesting it was a choice of August versus September. Since Labor Day next year is on Sept. 7, the before Labor Day student start date is actually Sept. 1, which is clearly not in August. We wonder how many parents would have voted for the later start date of Sept. 8 instead of Sept. 1 if the actual start dates had been used. The online survey should have given parents the same information that was provided to school staff in their confidential ballot.
The rationale behind a late start seems to be driven by concerns other than the effective education of our district's students. It is our sincere hope that the East Longmeadow School Committee will review the full implications of their decision and reconsider the start date of the 2009/10 school calendar.
On behalf of the 325 members of the East Longmeadow Education Association,
Eliel Gonzalez, President
Cathy Hood, Vice President
Lynne Kerber, Secretary
Keith Brownlee, Treasurer