By Laurel Busby
On Dec. 13, the Palisades High School governing board heard parents argue against starting the 2017-18 school year a week or two before Los Angeles Unified School District, but that same evening, the district voted to shift its start date a week earlier to one of the dates PaliHi had been considering.
Throughout the fall, PaliHi had investigated potential start dates, including Aug. 7, 14 and 21, all pupil-free days, with students beginning school the following day. The latter date had been LAUSD’s intended start date, based on a September vote to shift the district’s start closer to Labor Day over the next two years. However, the district changed its position at its Dec. 13 meeting.
Although the date is still not firm, if the new plan remains, pupils would most likely begin attending LAUSD schools on Aug. 15. This year they returned to school on Aug. 16.
At Palisades Charter High School, about two dozen parents attended the December board meeting, and about half spoke to argue for the Aug. 21 start date for varying reasons, such as reducing the impact on their summer plans, retaining the benefits of a traditional summer schedule, and remaining in lockstep with LAUSD’s schedule, which makes life easier if younger siblings attend Pali’s feeder schools.
PaliHi had been considering earlier start dates for various reasons, including making the fall and spring semesters more equal, so there would be a more even number of instructional days in each semester. Some board members had previously expressed support for ending the fall semester before the December vacation, which is the case this school year. The earlier start date also could allow a week for Thanksgiving break and three weeks for winter break, although some parents preferred that these breaks be shorter.
Unfortunately, due to increased absences during Thanksgiving week, the school loses financially when the Thanksgiving days are part of the school year, which the board had discussed during its November meeting. At that meeting, board members also mentioned some of the objections that parents shared, and the board voted to gather stakeholder input for presentation at the December meeting.
However, an initial survey that was emailed to parents was problematic. Principal Pam Magee said it allowed recipients to forward it to other people, who could then respond, so it didn’t provide an accurate representation of parent voices.
Alas, the second, more secure survey didn’t reach as many parents, and some who attended the board meeting were upset that they hadn’t received this second survey. This survey also had errors that made the difference in the number of instructional days between the two semesters much larger than it would actually be for the later start date.
This second survey was sent to 3,437 recipients on Friday, Dec. 9, with 401 responses (11.67 percent of recipients) received by Dec. 13, according to PaliHi office manager Mo Zaidi.
“I appreciate all the comments from people who came tonight and people who sent us emails,” Principal Magee said. “We’ve been looking for a way to make sure we are collecting that feedback.”
Magee and school board chair Emilie Larew said that a third survey would be sent out. The school also planned to make further efforts to reach more parents, such as by having a phone blast to let parents know to expect the survey, a suggestion from parent board representative Deanna Hamilton.
Larew said, “We need to start fresh, and we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to reach all the parents.”
She noted that one reason Pali has been considering deviating from LAUSD’s schedule to create a two-or three-year schedule was that in previous years the district had made late changes to its schedule that affected Pali’s plans.
“We wanted to make sure that if we did align with LAUSD it was a conscious decision to do so,” Larew said.
Currently, PaliHi does not plan to finalize next year’s schedule until February. The board requested that people email the entire board at firstname.lastname@example.org or choose individual representatives via the school website (palihigh.org) to email on this issue.
Ben Makhani, the board’s student liaison, said that students who had been questioned thus far had mixed opinions on the schedule, and he and other students were working to gather more student input.
At an October faculty meeting, teachers participated in a straw poll regarding their general preferences related to start date, length of school breaks, and end date of the first semester. The schedule will be decided by a faculty vote, then a vote by the board, as per the school’s agreement with the teachers’ union.