The Fairfax County School Board approved a new calendar for the next three school years during a sometimes heated meeting that lasted more than five hours Thursday night.
Superintendent Michelle C. Reid’s “blue option-amended” school calendar passed 7-5. It starts the school year two weeks before Labor Day, gives students two weeks for winter break, and has 180 days of instruction.
A key point of contention was the fact that the blue calendar draft was updated and provided to the board just before the meeting itself, after the community feedback period.
“My frustration is, I don’t know why we had months and months and months of all of this process, and I can’t even imagine the hours of staff time that have gone into four different versions, three years each, multiple times. Now three versions of the blue calendar, times three years each,” said Laura Jane Cohen, who represents the Springfield district and voted against the calendar.
“Our families work so, so, so hard to participate in these surveys and studies. And then we just say … ‘Well, you know, we actually, at the end of the day … we don’t care what you think.’ And that’s what people feel like,” she said.
Hunter Mill District Rep. Melanie K. Meren said she was voting for the school calendar “because we have to have a calendar.”
“And for my colleagues who are going to vote no, you can only vote no if people like me vote yes in order to keep this school system going,” Meren said.
Meren said she was “perplexed” as to why the board’s debate Thursday night couldn’t have happened during its work session.
“This is the kind of dialogue that should be happening in the work sessions, not the drilling of staff of question after question on every aspect of the calendar, but the talking to each other,” Meren said.
Another point of conflict was the number of five-day weeks the blue calendar had in its latest iteration.
“Every version of the blue calendar offered had more five-day weeks of instruction than the calendar that we’re voting on tonight,” said Karl Frisch, who represents the Providence District.
“This calendar does have more five-day weeks than the calendar we currently live in. But all of the calendars that were offered in this process had more … five-day weeks than the one we’re currently living in,” he said.
Rachna Sizemore Heizer, board chair and member-at-large, made her displeasure about the situation known.
“I will be voting for this. Not happy about it, because I think this process has been a mess,” Sizemore Heizer said. “But we need to have a calendar, we need to have a calendar for three years, because we have a strategic plan. We have collective bargaining. We have our literacy plan. Our staff needs their time to focus on our student mental health and many of the other initiatives that we have coming down the pike.”
“And we need to have a three-year calendar because I don’t want to go through this process again next year,” Sizemore Heizer said.
Before calling for the vote after nearly three hours of calendar debate, Sizemore Heizer thanked the staff and apologized for the board meeting running so late.
Below is a breakdown of Thursday night’s vote on the school calendar.
Yes: Megan McLaughlin, Tamara Derenak Kaufax, Rachna Sizemore Heizer, Karen Corbett Sanders, Elaine Tholen, Melanie K. Meren, and Karen Keys-Gamarra.
No: Stella Pekarsky, Laura Jane Cohen, Karl Frisch, Ricardy Anderson, and Abrar Omeish.
The amended blue calendar drafts for the 2023-2024, 2024-2025, and 2025-2026 school years can be viewed online.
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