Students head into a portable classroom in Chilliwack. (Black Press file)

No decision yet on two-week spring break for 2021 in Chilliwack school district

With two trustees absent and two married to teachers there was no quorum to vote on school calendar

One week or two weeks?

Every student, parent and teacher has an opinion on how long spring break should be but a Chilliwack Board of Education decision on next year’s school calendar was stymied Tuesday night due to a lack of quorum.

Five of seven trustees were in attendance at the March 10 regular board meeting to consider the 2020-2021 school calendar, but two of those present – Trustees Willow Reichelt and David Swankey – are married to teachers so they planned to abstain from the vote due to a perceived conflict of interest.

That left just Trustees Dan Coulter, Darrell Furgason and Barry Neufeld, not enough to hold a vote. Board chair Coulter put forth a motion, that was passed, to remove the item from the night’s agenda.

Trustees married to teachers do not usually come into conflict of interest on school board matters, but given that administration of the school district wants one week and the teachers’ union wants two weeks, there may be a perception that spouses of teachers would be in a conflict.

As it stands now, the plan on the table for 2020-2021 is for a two-week spring break decided upon by arbitrator Elaine Doyle who reviewed submissions from the Board of Education and the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association (CTA).

The annual debate about the spring break comes up every year, at least in part, because the number of instructional days changes and this year the two-week break pushes the daily instructional minutes above the collective bargaining agreement. This means a letter of understanding has to be signed by the Board and the CTA.

• READ MORE: Two-week calendar agreed to ‘in principle’ by Chilliwack teachers’ union – 2018

• READ MORE: Keeping kids busy with spring break camps and events in Chilliwack

The proposed calendar that was not approved by the board Tuesday calls for 15 teaching minutes per day over and above the union contract for elementary school, 10 minutes for middle school, and seven minutes for secondary.

In advance of the 2020-2021 calendar being prepared, the district held a survey. A total of 3,320 responses were received, 65 per cent of which (2,172) did not support the initial draft calendar that called for a one-week spring break and a reduction in elementary recess time from 15 minutes to 10.

Thirty-five per cent (1,148) supported the draft and the one-week spring break.

“The school district has more than 14,000 students so, presumably, the majority of parents did not complete the survey,” the staff report stated. “The Board will have to consider different options for collecting feedback for the 2021-2022 school calendar given the low participation rates.”

While the major reason cited for the two-week was to allow students and staff to rest and re-energize, and provide for family time including vacations, the one-week break is often favoured by lower income families and vulnerable students, according to the staff report prepared by acting superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasam.

”Although a decision has been rendered by arbitrator Elaine Doyle, it is worthy to note that a school calendar that includes a two-week spring break has a profound impact on vulnerable families that require consistency and supports in their lives,” according to Arul-pragasam. “This includes single parent families and low income parents having the ability to work during the second week of spring break, and the opportunity for vulnerable students to obtain much needed supports from their local school communities during the second week of spring break (e.g., access to food programs, academic and social/emotion supports and interventions, external agency supports working with schools, etc.).”

• READ MORE: Chilliwack students travelling overseas for spring break asked to self-isolate

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