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Students’ last day disputed

The school year will drag on longer than expected when students in Oak Harbor head to classes Friday, June 15, which is the last day of school. They will attend for a full day instead of the half day they enjoyed over the past several years.

That extra time has left some teachers scrambling to figure out activities for a full day where students have already turned in their books and won’t return again until the fall.

“Everybody assumed it was going to be a half day,” said Peter Szalai, president of Oak Harbor Education Association, which represents the school district’s teachers. He said the school board, superintendent and the communications director didn’t communicate the change from a half day to a full day.

He said it is educationally meaningless for students to stay the extra several hours before leaving on summer break. He pointed out that, at Oak Harbor Middle School where he teaches, the library closes June 8 and students can’t bring backpacks and binders on the last day of school.

In past years, students enjoyed shortened class periods on the last day of school where they would sign yearbooks and say goodbye. Following the classes, staff and students attended a recognition assembly, before teachers would say goodbye to students as they drove away on buses, Szalai said.

The changed situation arose from the severe weather that plagued Whidbey Island in December. School officials had to tack on a day at the end of the school year because power outages forced them to cancel a day. The last day of classes would have been a half day on Monday, June 18.

However, officials were able to get a waiver from the state Board of Education to cancel the half day of school June 18, which is a Monday, but the school board in February decided to keep June 15 as a full day.

Superintendent Rick Schulte said the district got the waiver because attendance on a Monday before summer break would be poor.

“While his decision has some logic, it flies in the face of common sense,” Szalai said. The union surveyed the teachers and found 93 percent of them wanted June 15 to be a half day of school for the students.

Szalai stressed that the teachers will still be working at the school when students leave for the summer. They have to work a full day on Friday and then have to come in again on Monday, June 18. They use that time to finish grades and clean out their classrooms.

Schulte said it was up to the school board to decide the final day of classes. He said he also has heard from people who were against the school district cutting school days. He also pointed out the Whidbey News-Times editorial published in March also criticized reducing school days.

Whether June 15 remains a full day or a half day for students could be discussed on the school board’s May 29 meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. in the school district’s Administrative Service Center. Regardless of whether June 15 remains a full day or a half day, the Oak Harbor School District still meets state requirements for class hours for students during a school year.

Szalai said the union is filing a grievance with the school district over the full day. However, the grievance process won’t be complete until after the school year ends. He hopes the grievance will help clarify language should a similar situation happen again.

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