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LAUSD to start school one week later in move that pleases few

Craig Clough | March 11, 2015

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Tamar Galatzan

Tamar Galatzan

The LA Unified school board decided to start school one week later for the 2015-16 academic year in a compromise that board member Tamar Galatzan — who voted in favor it — summed up as “the worst of both worlds.”

The 5-1 vote means students will begin classes on Aug. 18 next academic year.

The district first bucked tradition in 2012 when it moved the beginning of school from early September to early August, citing a potential benefit to high school students who would have more instructional time to prepare for tests and college admissions. It also prevented the district from having to split the first semester around the winter break.

LA Unified started the current school year on Aug. 12. The move to one week later was meant to address concerns that have been raised since the change, but based on comments from the board, it seems a safe bet it will debating the issue again come next year.

Critics of the early start date have pointed to the intense heat that students must endure in August, which is sometimes too hot for outdoor activities. The early date has also put extra pressure on some schools’ air conditioning systems, pushing up the district’s electrical bills and causing some systems to fail on hot days.

Several board members also said they had yet to see any reports or studies that proved that the early start date had been beneficial.

“One, I don’t know if it is academically beneficial, because I have seen no results,” said Board President Richard Vladovic, the lone dissenting vote, when outlining his reasons for opposition. “No. 2, to have our youngsters come during the heat, and they don’t get P.E. because it is too hot outside, the additional cost of the air conditioning and the loss of instructional time and the impact on special ed.”

Galatzan said she supports the early start date and that the high schools in her district in the the San Fernando Valley — statistically the hottest area of Los Angeles — also support the early start date. But although she voted for Aug. 18, Galatzan said the district needs to “fish or cut bait. We should either have an early start or abandon it all together.”

She also added, “This in-between thing is not serving the high schools who wanted it and the parents that don’t. I think we’ve just kind of made everyone unhappy. ”

The approved calendar still has a few other oddities considered non-traditional, like a full week off for Thanksgiving and three full weeks off for winter break.

Morina Lichstein, a LAUSD parent, organized an online petition that gathered over 3,000 signatures from district parents, teachers and students who opposed starting school any earlier than Aug. 24. She spoke to the board before the vote.

“Why do we bring kids in on Aug. 18, a Tuesday, only to send them home for eight full holidays in the fall semester? she asked. “If it’s a matter of instructional days, why do we close the schools for a week at Thanksgiving when two days is the norm?”

Highlighting the fog that seems to drench the topic, board members George McKenna, Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff all expressed skepticism about starting school in August for various reasons but voted in favor of moving to Aug. 18. Board member Monica Garcia was not present for the vote.

Board member Steve Zimmer seemed to be the only one actually pleased with the Aug. 18 compromise and pointed to keeping the semesters separated by winter break as the main reason.

“We tried to listen to all voices and reach a reasonable compromise,” he said. “I disagree that everyone hates this.”

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