Battle lines drawn in Aspen school calendar debate | AspenTimes.com

Battle lines drawn in Aspen school calendar debate

ASPEN – Though the Aspen School District has made no decision about whether to change from a traditional school year to a balanced calendar, those opposed to the idea are mounting their defenses.

“In any ideological battle, the fruits of victory go to the party that is able to make their message the loudest one heard. …,” wrote parent Carmen Dowley in an e-mail. The message encourages people to attend a meeting today to discuss the next steps in the calendar change debate. “Be the vocal proponent, every time you see a teacher, administrator, coach or member of the [board of education], respectfully let them know how you feel, make them weary about having ever brought the topic up.”

The Aspen School Board is currently debating whether it should change the school calendar from a traditional September-June model to one that comprises a nine-week on, two-week off schedule with a seven-week summer break. A stand-room-only public forum on the subject in mid-November drew comments both for and against the proposed change, though the opposition was far more vocal. At the time, school board members insisted they were on a fact-finding mission about the change and that no decisions had been made or even seriously contemplated.

On Tuesday, the school board reiterated that position via an e-mail to parents that stated: “The Communication Forum was just the beginning of that process and to date, no formal opinion or action has occurred and none is anticipated in the near future.”

School board President Fred Peirce added that the school board’s next step will be to direct the District Accountability Committee’s calendar subcommittee to review the input from November’s meeting, as well as additional research and data, and report back to the board.

“It is a work in progress,” he said.

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But progress is slow, according to Dowley, prompting those opposed to the idea of a new school calendar to mount a “Campaign Against Year Round School.”

“This isn’t a fight; we need to be proactive, not reactive. But we decided we needed to get people talking because when we don’t hear anything, we can only assume it’s a done deal,” she said. She added that the lack of communication included a blog on the subject that never got started, among other things. “I guess we just decided we needed to restart the conversation, force the issue a bit.”

To that end, Dowley’s e-mail outlined a five-step approach to ensuring the calendar remains the same – a “jumping off point” for today’s meeting, she said. Among those steps is bombarding the local newspapers with letters to the editor and nailing down board members who will be up for re-election on their positions.

Dowley further states that the opposition group must develop well-researched arguments against the proposed change. “If the BOE and Administration do not have their arguments in proper order, we can make them look foolish and ineffectual,” she wrote.

To that point, Peirce replied: “The board hasn’t talked about the e-mail or their position per se. But when I look at that e-mail, all I can assume is they are afraid of change in general because we have made no changes, and thus there is nothing for anyone to rail against yet.

“Maybe they believe the school district has some hidden agenda, that we’re trying to create a year-round school, but I can guarantee you that’s not the case. Our interest is in the children, and all we are doing is researching to see if a change might be a good or bad thing.”

Dowley agreed about children being at the center of the calendar debate, and acknowledged the need for all sides to work together in creating an acceptable school calendar.

“Ultimately we have to keep our children in mind,” she said. “This is about our students, and both camps agree on that.”

Today’s meeting, which Dowley assured parents in her e-mail “is not a mudslinging, name call work session but one that will be conducted with the utmost respect,” is at 8:30 a.m. in the Aspen High School library classroom. The next school district-sponsored communication forum on the topic likely will be in January. The district must approve a calendar for the 2011-12 school year in March, but there is no requirement that any changes be made at that time.

jmcgovern@aspentimes.com