Lawton Public Schools will start the next school year almost two weeks later than its 2019-2020 start date, under a revised calendar set into place Monday by the Lawton Board of Education.
While students and staff will receive only two days off for fall break, the district will have an entire week off for Thanksgiving, rather than the three days typically observed. School administrators also are looking at school start times, but aren’t ready to announce them yet, said Ken Baden, the district’s chief operating officer.
The calendar crafted for the 2020-2021 year is the work of a team of administrators and Baden said it started with a key element: school won’t start until Friday, Aug. 21. The 2019-2020 school year began Aug. 9, amid complaints that was too early, district administrators said.
Rick Owens, LPS executive director of secondary education, said next year’s school calendar was crafted after weeks of work by a team of district administrators.
Chris Sharkey, director of special services, said the committee’s decisions were based on state Department of Education mandates that public school districts must provide 1,080 hours of school a year (6 daily school hours, 180 days a year). Lawton’s new calendar provides 1,092.78 hours. While the largest number of hours is gained from instructional time (1,050.78 hours, or 166 days), the district also gets credit for 30 hours of in-service/professional development days and 12 hours of parent teacher conferences.
The net effect: a school start date almost two weeks later than this school year’s start date, along with five fewer “partial weeks,” meaning weeks where students don’t go to school all five days. There are 16 partial weeks in the 2019-2020 school calendar; there will be 11 in next year’s calendar. There also are fewer professional days: five in all.
Administrators also worked a change that will give students a full week at Thanksgiving — Nov. 23-27 — rather than the Wednesday through Friday that has been standard. The trade off: fall break will be a day shorter. It will be Friday and Monday (Oct 9 and 12); this school year, it was held Wednesday through Friday.
Sharkey said the decision was deliberate: people want more time at Thanksgiving. It’s the same deliberate process that administrators used when calculating the year’s start date: the first two weeks of school have a higher absentee rate, especially when the year starts in early August, administrators said.
There were some concerns from the school board about how the dates would affect LPS students who attend Great Plains Technology Center or are concurrently enrolled at Cameron University. The impact won’t be felt much at Cameron, Owens said, noting students who attend classes on the college campus already know they must attend classes if the LPS breaks don’t coincide with the university’s.
Interim Superintendent Tom Thomas said the greater issue for Great Plains Technology Center is student start time.
“If we move the high school (start time) later, it’s better for them,” he said.
That discussion about school start times will be coming to the Board of Education in coming weeks.
“We look forward to the start time conversation,” said board member Patty Neuwirth.
Sharkey and Owens said the goal is to adjust start times so all students — no matter what the grade — have the same number of hours in their school day. Now, LPS elementary students attend classes five minutes less per day than do secondary students. The goal is to have each school have the same length of instructional day: 6 hours and 20 minutes.
School board members acknowledged the need for discussion on the school day and start times for students of various ages. Last summer, when the new start times were announced, some school board members said studies have indicated high school students do better with later start times.
The district adjusted its start times in August 2019 — making it 5 and 10 minutes earlier for secondary students and 10 minutes later for elementary students — as administrators worked to balance start times with bus routes. Because of a lack of drivers, LPS buses run multiple routes, dropping off high school students then returning for runs for middle school then elementary students. Multiple routes were causing late bus arrivals, which the district said it would resolve by moving school start times.
School officials said then the change was temporary, as the district worked through its transportation problems. Lawton Public Schools also has offered incentives to lure and keep bus drivers, and secondary students have the option to ride LATS (Lawton’s mass transit system) without charge by showing student ID cards.
District officials haven’t commented on how the changes are working, but Baden said Monday administrators reviewing school start times.
“We will change that,” he said, telling board members administrators are not yet ready to discuss proposals.