By Tony Bleill
Crafting a school calendar for the 2020-21 school year was anything but a simple process for Champaign Unit 4 Schools officials.
First, the state of Illinois made changes to its requirements, not issuing final guidance until June 2019. Then Unit 4 needed to consider the schedule for its ongoing construction projects.
“I would say there’s no perfect calendar, by any means,” said Dan Casillas, chair of Unit 4’s calendar committee.
It takes a while to accomplish. And now – past the time that Casillas ideally would like to have it completed – the Unit 4 school board will vote on accepting the proposed calendar at its Feb. 10 meeting.
For those parents eagerly awaiting the next calendar, here are some highlights (pending approval):
- For those schools using a tradition calendar (i.e., not “year-round” schools), the academic year will begin Aug. 20, “which would extend summer break by a full week,” Casillas told the school board at its January meeting.
- There is a shorter winter break; for the 2020-21 school year, the break is Dec. 23-Jan. 4.
- School will be in session on the second Monday in October (still called Columbus Day by the state) and Veterans Day. In addition, Easter Monday (sometimes called Spring Holiday) will become a school day.
And perhaps the best news: The calendar committee is sending proposals for both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years for the school board to adopt next month. (Find the Champaign Unit 4 Schools proposed 2020-21 calendar for BALANCED calendar schools here; REGULAR calendar for 2020-21 here; Champaign Unit 4 Schools BALANCED calendar 2021-2022 here; Champaign Unit 4 Schools REGULAR calendar 2021-2022 here.)
“The last time we adopted some calendars we started working on a two-year cycle,” Casillas said, noting that in February 2018 the district approved calendars for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years. “It worked out great.” But then the state made some changes, throwing a wrench into the cycle.
That, combined with myriad construction projects as part of the referendum package, created a few adjustments. The most pertinent was creating as large a summer break as possible for those projects to be accomplished.
“A lot of the work is scheduled to be completed in the summer when we have no students in attendance,” Casillas said. “And every day counts in the summer. Significant consideration was given to those projects in order to maximize the days during the summers of 2020 and 2021.”
Casillas’ committee includes “parents, teachers, support staff, principals and district administrators,” Casillas said. The goal is to encompass the voices of all stakeholders while adhering to regional and state requirements regarding the number of attendance days (176) and other factors. (Unit 4 has received a waiver from the state allowing it to count four of those 176 days for school improvement.)
Regarding Veterans Day, Casillas said, “The state does allow you to attend on Veterans Day, many districts do attend on Veterans Day. In a lot of ways, it allows our building administrators and teachers to better honor our veterans. Because I’m not sure how much thought or recognition they’re given when students don’t have to attend on a Veterans Day. The next two years do have proposals that do include attendance on Veterans Day and our hope would be that it’s a day that we can honor veterans and provide them the thanks and recognition that they absolutely deserve.”
And, bottom line, Casillas doesn’t expect to be cutting it this close in coming years.
“So this fall we started meeting early in the semester and are back in a two-year cycle (with 2020-21 and 2021-22 calendars set to be approved),” he said. “So it would be our hope that next year when the committee calendar meets we’ll actually be looking at the 2022-23 calendar. So that way we’re always two years out, so to speak.”