In a significant move to bolster academic recovery efforts, the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday evening added four more days to the next school year, a decision that leaders said addresses the needs of students struggling to learn over the complaints of some parents and teachers about late changes to family and work calendars.
In a unanimous vote, the board approved a $122-million plan for four extra days and three professional development days for teachers on top of the state-required 180 instruction days. The four days will be scheduled at critical points in the school year — at the 10-week semester mark and before final grades are due. Regular classes will be canceled and schools will be able to customize how best to use the day to help students.
At an elementary school, for instance, the day could bring specialized small-group instruction and individualized support for students, parent-teacher meetings or intensive support for literacy and math skills — even family seminars to support learning with at-home activities. At middle and high schools, counselors and teachers could meet with students to go over work that needs to be made up; students could work on missing assignments to shore up grades, get tutoring or participate in mini-lessons.
“For the students who lost the most ground during the pandemic, poor students living in foster care, homeless students, those who have English language limitations, and those who have one or more disabilities stand to gain the most,” said Supt. Alberto Carvalho, who expressed strong support for the extended school year that will run from August 15, 2022 through June 15, 2023.
When the calendar first was made public last week, a barrage of complaints emerged from some parents about a calendar that was introduced late in the school year that could affect family vacations and schedules. Parents and teachers alike were confused about what the district called “optional student acceleration days” and were frustrated that parents and teachers did not have any input on an issue as critical as their school year calendars and how the days would affect teacher workloads.
Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said in a statement that the calendar extends into the summer and is “an overreach of Supt. Carvalho and LAUSD officials to ask more of students, families, and educators, without seeking their input in any systematic or public way.”
“The educators of UTLA take issue with the complete lack of communication from Supt. Carvalho and the district, who did not attempt to engage with anyone in the school community affected by these changes — beyond us, that also includes our students, their families, and their communities,” Myart-Cruz said.
School board member Nick Melvoin said he is disappointed because “I have been asking for this calendar for months” and the late release is challenging for some parents and staff. However, Melvoin stopped short of blaming Carvalho, who took over in mid-February and ultimately supported the plan, saying it was a good investment in students and teachers who will have more time for learning and professional training.
“The school calendar is maybe the most controversial thing this board acts on because it’s a delicate balancing act,” Melvoin said, taking into account the timing of finals before winter break and AP exams. But, he added, “What better investment can we make as a district than in our existing staff with our students and giving them more time in the classroom.”
School board President Kelly Gonez spoke of the wide diversity in the district — “from places like Pacoima to the Palisades.” She expressed concern that board members heard from many parents who have raised concerns about “impacts to vacations and camp schedules. … But we certainly have not heard from the parents who, you know, are working two and three jobs, whose kids are most likely to be positively impacted” by the additional days.
“By giving students more time at school and teachers more time to collaborate and plan and individually support their students on an optional basis, we can help our students continue to recover from the disruptions and the trauma of the pandemic,” Gonez said.
Heather Mayer, who has two students in LAUSD, said she felt that the attempt to add days ignored parents’ rejection of such an option last year. Nearly a year ago the district dropped plans to extend this academic year after the teachers union said that teachers and families were too exhausted and needed the time off. In a district survey, parents were closely divided on the issue.
“We want to use this time for kids to be able to increase their socialization, spend more time with family, travel, go to camp,” Mayer said. As a working parent, she said, the days add “a whole extra level of work” in arranging child care and juggling her work.
During public comment, one parent spoke in favor of the proposed calendar and agreed with the district that it would help students who have struggled to learn during the pandemic and have returned to the classroom.
“Our children have been impacted with lack of instruction due to the pandemic,” she said in Spanish through a translator. “Now that they’re back, they’re being affected because there has been a social emotional loss, and it’s difficult for them to focus on their studies.”
Carvalho insisted there is plenty of time ahead for school communities to design the extra days to fit the needs of their students — and took issue with critics who said the days were a waste of money.
“How is it wasteful? ” he said. “In my mind, in my reality it will never be a waste to pay teachers to be in front of the kids inspiring them and remediating, addressing and accelerating their learning potential.”