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Shorter summer breaks? Washington districts study changing school calendar

Several districts and one charter school will study whether taking shorter breaks throughout the year will help prevent major learning loss commonly seen in summer.

LACEY, Wash. — Students who got used to online classes and wearing masks on campus might have to adjust their summer plans in the coming school years.

According to Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, 18 school districts and one charter school are using grant funding to explore shortening the traditional summer break to allow for what’s known as a balanced school calendar.

“It’s not year-round school, it’s just allocating the days differently throughout the school year,” said North Thurston Public Schools Asst. Superintendent Monty Sabin.

Sabin said the district has formed a 50-person steering committee, made up of administrators, teachers, students, and community partners to explore changing the school calendar.

Students would still be required to attend 180 days of instruction, but instead of an 11-week summer break and longer fall, winter and spring sessions, the district could switch to four, 45-day quarters with either two or three-week breaks throughout the year, in addition to a five to eight-week summer.

Sabin said research shows students fall behind during long summer breaks.

“The whole idea of the balanced calendar is to reduce the impact of learning loss on kids, especially kids of low-income families,” said Sabin. “When you look over the elementary span of time, that gap can be a couple of years.”

North Thurston will hold community meetings on the topic starting in December before making a recommendation to the school board in May. Sabin is eager to hear what community members, parents, students and staff think about the idea.

Julie Popper, a spokesperson for the largest teacher's union in the state, the Washington Education Association (WEA), said, "WEA feels decisions about the school year calendar must be made collaboratively with families and educators at the table to make sure changes are reflective of our students' needs."

Sabin said if approved, the new calendar could be implemented, over a two-year period starting during the 2022-23 school year.

According to OSPI, the 18 districts obtaining grant funding to explore balanced schedules are: Columbia School District (Walla Walla), Crescent School District, Elma School District, Kittitas School District, Lopez School District, Mount Adams School District, Mount Vernon School District, North Thurston Public Schools, Oakville School District, Olympia School District, Selah School District, Soap Lake School District, Thorp School District, Union Gap School District, Vancouver School District, Wahluke School District, Winlock School District, Yakima School District.

One charter school, Rainier Valley Leadership Academy, is using grant funding to look at calendar changes.


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