Editor’s Note: School District 73 put a one-week spring break into effect this year. Most districts, like Victoria where Jack Knox lives and works, are still on two weeks.
AS THE KIDS prepare to trundle back to school this week at the end of their two-week spring break, it’s worth asking: Why?
Not “why go back” (they could give you plenty of reasons for that), but “why did the holiday last two weeks?”
Not that long ago, spring break lasted one week. Then, desperate for savings, schools extended the hiatus, which was fine for some but not for others. It was great if your family was flush and flexible enough to go winging off to Disneyland, but lousy if you were a single parent trying to juggle work and child care. (How many mothers took holidays in the past couple of weeks or phoned in sick?) Others fretted about the whole book-learnin’ thing.
In 2015, Rob Fleming — then an Opposition MLA, now the education minister — married both arguments when the Liberal government demanded B.C. school districts find $54 million in “administrative” savings: “In [Greater Victoria], we already have a two-week spring break, not for educational purposes but so they can turn the heat down in the buildings and try and save money. Parents have had to scramble and pay all kinds of fees out of pocket for an excessively long spring break.”
Greater Victoria went to a two-week break in 2010. Saanich did so in 2013, citing savings of $150,000. The Sooke school district followed suit in 2015.
In fact, all but two of B.C.’s 60 school districts, those based in Quesnel and Kamloops, are taking two weeks this year (Kamloops-Thompson actually went back to one week from two this spring).
In the southern Gulf Islands, the two-week break became part of an already-tightened calendar. The Salt Spring Island-based board adopted a four-day school week in 2004 (making up for lost time by adding an hour to each school day) and never went back.
At the time, the school board argued that it had little choice. With government grants tied to enrolment, and enrolment falling, the alternative was cutting teachers — and in small, rural districts, cutting teachers means cutting entire programs. In going to a four-day week, the Gulf Islands board cited big savings in its transportation budget — buses and the cost of boating students from the smaller islands to Salt Spring for middle school and high school.
Rob Pingle, who chairs the Gulf Islands board of education, says the combination of the four-day week and two-week spring break saves the district $500,000 to $600,000 a year. Students don’t seem to have suffered, either. “We don’t feel like being on a four-day school week has had significant impacts on education,” Pingle said.
Not only that, but most people seem to like it. School districts are required to consult parents, employees and the public before setting the school calendar each year, and Pingle finds more like the status quo than not. Perhaps that reflects the islands’ economies: plenty of work-at-home parents on one hand and, on the other, plenty of shift workers — B.C. Ferries, the hospital — whose lives aren’t synced to the school day anyway.
Or maybe it reflects broader sentiment around B.C. It’s not as if the students themselves are clawing at the locked doors of the schools after week one, demanding to be let back in.
Nor are salaried teachers breaking down in tears over the longer break, though the same can’t be said of all support staff: In some districts, hourly employees add minutes to the work day to make up the income lost to an extended spring break, but in others they just get laid off, lose a week’s pay.
Look for their union, CUPE, to bring that up in the next round of bargaining. Not sure who will represent the single moms.
Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloops lad who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.
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