A.L. Area Schools board reconsider calendar issue

By Hannah Dillon

A policy that allows Albert Lea Area Schools to mandate remediation for students who need it is on the agenda for Monday’s school board meeting.

The meeting has been rescheduled to 6 p.m. Monday at Brookside Education Center as the Dec. 15 meeting failed to meet quorum.

The board will also reconsider the proposed calendar during the meeting that was voted down on Dec. 1 by the school board.

“The calendar being considered is the same balanced calendar from the Dec. 1 meeting for the regular school year,” Superintendent Mike Funk said, and summer school will be included for illustration purposes.

Funk said the remediation policy will allow the district to require instruction when school isn’t in session to help reduce summer learning loss.

The policy says the district will offer remedial instruction for kindergarten through ninth grade, make up and review courses for ninth through 12th grade, special education instruction related to the mandatory remediation, reading intervention programs and other mandatory remediation as determined by the school district.

The proposed calendar, which was first discussed almost two years ago, will have students starting before Labor Day on Aug. 17, 2015. Students could potentially get out of school on May 20, 2015, unless there are snow days. The calendar also features a two-week break in October and March, where enrichment and remediation can be offered.

Kari Ulrich, an Albert Lea resident with a son in 10th grade, said she feels nothing has been changed. Ulrich said it’s frustrating the board voted no but the calendar is still getting pushed.

“I think this is the most disrespectful thing the district has done to our families,” Ulrich said.

Board member Jeshua Erickson, who voted in favor of the proposed calendar, said the new proposal with required remediation should address concerns some community members had about summer learning loss.

“I’m encouraged by this new proposal because it addresses learning loss for those students who are required to receive remediation,” Erickson said. “I know not addressing learning loss was a criticism of the previous proposal, so hopefully this addresses that concern.”

The type of calendar that the Albert Lea Area Schools is pursuing is a Flexible Learning Year. Districts must fill out an application for the calendar to get approved by the Minnesota Department of Education.

This application requires districts to have the calendar approved by a school board, to hold three community meetings where concerns were addressed and to provide evidence that affected staff, students and parents participated in the program development and will participate in an annual review, among other criteria.

The Department of Education website also says school districts must look at any child care or child nutrition needs that come up because of a nontraditional calendar.

Josh Collins, director of communications with the Department of Education, said he’s heard about the “contentious” issue of the proposed calendar, but said the district hasn’t sent in any applications yet.

However, Collins said community members have been calling the Department of Education expressing their comments on the issue.

Collins said the Department of Education doesn’t plan calendars with districts because that would give just the superintendent’s side to a calendar, and not a balanced picture. He stressed the Department of Education needs to see the response from the community to make a decision.

Ulrich said she and other community members she has talked to feels like this is no longer a calendar issue, however, but a trust issue between the school board and the community.

“Honestly, I think it’s a waste of time to bring it up right now,” Ulrich said. “Kids are on break, let families be with their families. Let’s revisit it after the first of the year, after the school board has looked at other options.”

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