Memorial Day 2008 was a time for decorating soldiers’ graves, pursuing outdoor recreation and enjoying picnics for many Brown County residents. But none of that applied to many area public school students, teachers and staff.
School superintendents in Brownwood, Early and Bangs said they have received numerous comments about school being in session as usual Monday as the nation paused to observe Memorial Day. However, proposals are in the works to prevent a recurrence in 2009.
“It certainly wasn’t done out of any disrespect for our fallen soldiers as some callers have suggested,” Bangs Superintendent Bill Foster said. “That’s not it at all. This is the first year that Memorial Day has come before school gets out since the Texas Legislature required us to start later (in August). We’ve never had this as an issue, so I think it may have caught people a bit by surprise.”
Foster’s comments were echoed by Brownwood Superintendent Reece Blincoe and Early Superintendent Brett Koch. They all pointed to the difficulties in squeezing 180 days of instruction between the fourth Monday in August — the earliest the state lets public school start classes — and the last day of May.
“I’ve received a lot of calls and e-mails, and one person came in the talk face-to-face,” Blincoe said. “A lot of people are upset… I take their calls and listen to what they have to say, and then tell them their next call should be to their state legislators. If the state legislature wasn’t in the business of setting our calendar, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Koch said the school calendar is finalized more than a year in advance, and even with the eyes of most of the faculty and staff and superintendent’s advisory committee, and the board of trustees, no obvious connection was made that Memorial Day Monday would fall the last week of school.
“I’ll take responsibility,” Koch said, “but it is hard to remember the discussions of more than a year ago, and I don’t remember the point being made at all.
“The last thing I would want anyone to think is that the Early ISD, board or administration does not honor our veterans, our service members or those who have lost their lives in service to this country. That is not the case,” Koch said.
Blincoe said state lawmakers’ mandate that school can’t start until the last week of August “has made it very, very difficult” to get all the required school days in, as well as with the holidays that families want.
“This is a key issue with me,” Blincoe said. “I believe in local control. (The local school district) knows what our community wants better than anybody, and we know what’s best for our students.”
Both Blincoe and Foster inherited school calendars for this semester after starting their jobs in April and January, respectively. But they didn’t level blame on the calendar makers nor the process that left their districts holding class on Memorial Day.
“People think the calendar should be easy to fix, but it’s actually quite complicated,” Foster said. “We try to get days off for holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. and Memorial Day, but there are only so may ways you can do it. And believe me, nobody wants to be going to school in June.”
School calendars are developed with the input of site-based committees, which consider various options and then make a proposal for the administration to take to the school board. Dozens of local educators review the proposals.
“The school board almost always accepts the site-based proposal,” Foster said.
For the last several years at least, Koch said, Memorial Day has fallen on the Monday after graduation. This year — and for the next several — it will fall the Monday before the Saturday graduation.
Adjustments are being made so that next year, the Early ISD will have the holiday, Koch said. The calendar posted on the district’s Web site shows it as a holiday unless the board acts to rescind it because of days lost to bad weather.
“The calendar is set a year in advance and we are limited in the dates we have to take off. We follow state mandates for starting school, and the input we had was to have graduation by the end of May. We also worked — and had some difficulty — in arranging a week’s spring break and having school out for Good Friday.”
Blincoe said he has spoken with Brownwood school board president Michael Coppic concerning an change to the 2008-2009 calendar, which was adopted earlier this year and again calls for classes on Memorial Day. The district’s education committee is being consulted to consider options, and Blincoe said one would be to schedule an abbreviated class day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, instead of having the entire day off. That would allow a holiday for Memorial Day. Even though students would get out early the day before Thanksgiving, the district would get credit for the full day if they are in class for a required time.
“Part of the problem with starting class late in August is getting the entire fall semester in before Christmas,” Blincoe said. Moving a class day from the spring to the fall semester would give the year’s first semester an additional instructional day.
Koch said Early students had a “bad weather day” holiday May 12, which could have perhaps have been switched earlier this spring, but “the subject simply wasn’t brought up.”
Early students’ start finals on Tuesday.
“Would we want students to be off Monday and start finals Tuesday? Obviously, that’s something we would have needed to make adjustments for, but we could have made adjustments for,” Koch said.
At least two Brown County school districts — Brookesmith and May — observed Monday as a holiday.