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By Jim Shilander

Parents upset by academic schedules placing the start of school before Labor Day made their case to the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees Wednesday.

The 2015-2016 school year will begin Aug. 25 and was approved in 2014. In March, the board approved starting the 2016-17 school year on Aug. 15.

District staff said the changes were made to try and bring the district closer in line to academic schedules in other areas of the county—as well as Saddleback College—and to allow for more uninterrupted instruction time. The fall semester would also finish before winter break under the proposal. Summer would be shortened the first two years of this schedule to nine weeks, with a 10-week summer restored following a “transition period.”

Many parents protested that the changes would not allow for adequate family time during the summer for students, due to the area’s “June gloom” weather and July tourist season, leaving August as the best time for families to vacation together. They also noted that many buildings in the district lacked air conditioning and August is often the hottest month in the area. Parents also said they would consider not changing vacation plans and holding their students out of school during August.

Heather Brown, who created a petition against the proposed schedule after the 2016-2017 dates were announced, said the district was not considering the impact on family time fully, especially given the high performance of the district with the current schedule.

Councilman Tim Brown, speaking as a citizen, said he felt the change was a “solution in search of a problem.” Tom Barnes, a former teacher and author of an AP history test preparation guide, said the notion that AP students could not prepare for tests in less time was incorrect.

Board president Lynn Hatton-Hodson said the goal of the board was to provide “the best educational environment,” which it believed would be achieved by the earlier start. Amy Hanacek, who represents a portion of San Clemente and sent children to school there, noted that for students who work in the summers, the later end dates can make finding work harder, as returning college students often scoop up the best jobs in May. She also said the district could see improvement over its current performance.

“Why not reach higher,” she asked rhetorically.

The board took no action, but indicated a willingness to open up future scheduling committee meetings to the public and to communicate changes more effectively.

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