by Dennis Dalman
Simmering dissatisfaction with the elimination of school spring break has boiled over into a virtual protest movement among many Sartell residents.
More than 150 of those concerned citizens – students and parents – attended the Sartell-St. Stephen School Board meeting last Monday and presented signed petitions with more than 300 signatures. They came to request the board to reconsider its decision on spring-break policy for next year. They also want the board to authorize a community survey or a communitywide public meeting about the spring-break decision. The board, however, declined to revisit the issue, leaving its decision of Jan. 23 to stand.
The protest group left the meeting in a dissatisfied mood.
At the meeting, School Board Chairman Patrick Jacobson-Schulte asked the board twice for a motion to re-open the spring-break discussion. Both times, no board member made a motion. Jacobson-Schulte said several parents had requested the issue be placed on the agenda for that evening, but the board declined to place it on the agenda. Jacobson-Schulte had been one of two board members who voted against dropping week-long spring break.
Upset by the spring-break decision, some students have been selling black T-shirts that proclaim, “Spring Break: Make It Happen.” There are also two Facebook pages on which students and parents can make their views known.
At its Jan. 23 meeting, the Sartell-St. Stephen School Board had voted 4-2 to eliminate the school system’s traditional spring break, a week-long period of no-school. Instead, the board decided to create a school calendar with five days off from school. Those dates are March 29; April 1, 25 and 26; and May 27. They will amount to three-day weekends; and in one case (March 25, 26) a four-day weekend.
At the Jan. 23 meeting, two board members – Greg Asfeld and Patrick Jacobson-Schulte – voted against the proposal. Those voting for it were Lesa Kramer, Mary McCabe, Dan Riordan and Julie Zupfer Anderson.
That decision to drop week-long spring break caused immediate controversy – at least among many vocal parents and students who want the spring break reinstated. They are also upset because they say the school board and administration did not consult with the community before making a decision. In addition, some parents and teachers have claimed that school officials, including Superintendent Joe Hill, have been brushing off their concerns. Hill recommended the spring-break change. The major rationale for ending spring break is that doing so would enhance educational continuity.
School officials, however, have countered the criticism, saying the board studied the issue for many months before the decision, open to any suggestions from parent-teacher organizations.
Those in favor of week-long spring break give three main reasons why they think it is important: a time for families to spend time together without the pressure of homework or extracurricular activities; a chance to take vacations farther from home to visit loved ones; a time for students to travel to distant cities to check into college possibilities.
Pam Raden, a parent of two students in the Sartell-St. Stephen School District, has been an unofficial spokesperson for the protest group.
“To us, this is not just about spring break,” she said. “It’s about how the school board reacted to our concerns. They are not communicating with us. The process is flawed.”
Raden said if the board majority is so confident in its decision to end week-long spring break, they should have no qualms about sharing their rationale with all the parents and students.
“I’m not necessarily against their decision,” Raden said, adding she and others just want to know exactly how board members arrived at the decision and why they did so with little or no direct input from parents and students.
“The board members barely if at all responded to our questions,” she said. “There used to be great, open communication from the board, like when we worked on the school referendum issue. This is suspect. Something’s wrong when they wouldn’t even put it (spring-break issue) on the agenda after six parents requested it.”