Suzanne Perez Tobias

School district calendars rarely are simple, but next year’s is worse than most

Next school year, for the first time in modern history, the state’s six public universities will not have a common spring break.
Next school year, for the first time in modern history, the state’s six public universities will not have a common spring break. The Wichita Eagle

When the Wichita school district approves its academic calendar, it sets the course for thousands of local families who refer to those dates to plan vacations, schedule appointments and make child care arrangements.

Spending Christmas at Grandma’s house? Make sure you return before the kids start back. Planning a spring break ski trip? Check the dates before you book that condo.

Unfortunately, setting calendars for the 2019-20 school year is proving to be a mess for local districts, thanks to a decision by the Kansas Board of Regents.

Next school year, for the first time in modern history, the state’s six public universities will not have a common spring break. During an innocuous vote more than a year ago, the Board of Regents approved academic calendars through 2022 that have spring breaks all over the board — from the first week of March to the last.

Because university start dates vary — some begin the spring semester early in January while others, including Wichita State, start after Martin Luther King Jr. Day — board members “decided they’d go with what (spring breaks) made the most sense for . . . each institution,” said Matt Keith, spokesman for the Board of Regents.

That tipped the first domino in a row that reached Wichita this week.

Administrators in Wichita, the state’s largest school district, proposed a calendar for next year that has spring break the same week as WSU’s — March 23-29.

Other local districts, including Andover, Maize, Goddard, Valley Center and Circle, have either already set or are proposing breaks a week earlier, March 16-22. Three state universities — KU, K-State and Emporia State — set their spring breaks for March 9-15.

Laura Williams, a Wichita teacher whose children attend school in a different district, urged school board members to coordinate Wichita’s break with other area districts.

“As a mother, I want to spend spring break with my own children,” she said.

But Wichita Superintendent Alicia Thompson noted other relevant concerns. For example, matching Wichita’s spring break to those at WSU and WSU Tech means high school students taking college classes will get a break, as will college students doing their student teaching in Wichita classrooms.

Board members smartly decided to send the proposed calendar back to Thompson and her team in hopes of rectifying the situation. At the same time, they’ll reconsider a Jan. 3 in-service that would require teachers to start spring semester on a Friday, and they’ll discuss the option of a week-long break for Thanksgiving.

As with snow days, whatever the district decides about its calendar, someone will be unhappy.

Wichita board member Ben Blankley noted that a week-long Thanksgiving break might be nice for kids and teachers, but it poses a challenge for working parents trying to arrange child care.

If Wichita decides to match its spring break to other local school districts, that means college students won’t have the same break as their younger siblings.

One thing, though, is apparent: A standard spring break for universities could prevent some of the confusion and help districts who are trying to make things simpler for families. The Board of Regents should remember that when it considers its next crop of calendars.

Suzanne Perez Tobias is a columnist and member of The Eagle’s editorial board. During her nearly 30 years at the newspaper, she has covered breaking news, education, local government and other topics. An avid reader, Suzanne also oversees The Eagle’s books coverage and coordinates the annual #ReadICT Challenge. She can be reached at 316-268-6567.