After the School Committee last month voted to add three holidays to the 2024-25 academic calendar—Diwali, Lunar New Year, and Eid al-Fitr will join Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Good Friday as religious/cultural days off for students, faculty, and staff—the Committee revisited the issue during its Jan. 9 meeting (see Wellesley Media recording, about 18 minutes in). Next steps: a task force led by two to-be-determined School Committee members will be assembled. The group will be assigned to provide a recommendation on what the school calendar should look like beyond the next academic year.
“We’re at another beginning, not an ending,” Committee member Leda Eizenberg said.
The idea behind creating a task force would be to involve stakeholders that could include community leaders, faith leaders, Civil Discourse Initiative members, students, school faculty, the Select Board, and others. “What we’re solving for is the holidays, or days off of school—what parameters will be considered,” Chair Craig Mack said, citing a need to move on to “next steps for the school calendar outreach.”
In addition, it’s possible that the teachers’ union will have substantial say in the direction in which school holidays go. “We were notified by the WEA [Wellesley Educators Association] of a demand for Impact Bargaining over this point for next year’s calendar. We expect to have conversations with the WEA as is our obligation under bargaining rules to be able to do that,” Supt. Dr. David Lussier informed the Committee.
During Citizens Speak, a resident said for such an important vote last month, the process seemed rushed and characterized by a lack of transparency. “I understand a task force is going to be assembled. I’m really encouraging everyone to have the criteria be transparent about the process of choosing a task force, and how to apply,” she said.
What recommendations a task force may present to the School Committee is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the 2024-25 calendar that includes six religious/cultural holidays will stand. Perhaps the recommendation will be to remove all such holidays from the calendar. Or maybe a task force will think outside the 180-day school-year box and come up with something else.
“To me, we level set by putting these six days on the calendar, for 2024-25 alone, which is what we’ve done, and now we ask the questions. But we ask the question from a place of where we have tried to make sure that all students in the community feel like they belong,” Eizenberg said.
Using a task force model is a step toward addressing concerns about transparency. All meetings of a task force would fall under Open Meeting law. That means that although a task force would be made up of a finite group of people, all meetings would be open to the public, and the agendas would be posted ahead of time.
Supt. Lussier voiced administration support encouraging the School Committee to take this on and, “The staff, clearly, will support whichever direction the Committee chooses.”
Wellesley High School student representative Evelyn Harrison suggested casting a wide net to gather opinions would go a long way toward achieving a goal of transparency. “It would be incredibly beneficial to have some more town-wide surveys that go maybe both to faculty and to students” so that participation in the process is more accessible, Harrison said.
Committee member Catherine Mirick suggested that the Committee not decide then and there which two members would take on task force leadership, to general agreement. That will be a decision that will likely come in two weeks’ time, during the next School Committee meeting, along with details on what exactly a task force would tackle as it seeks to come up with recommendations.