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May 23, 2018

2/13/2018 7:30:00 AM
LdF school board's school calendar change discussed
January board action questioned by staff; Times accused of 'fake news'

Brian Jopek

In early January, the school board for the Lac du Flambeau School District approved what is considered a "year-round" school calendar for the 2018-19 school year.

In an article about the school calendar discussion at the January school board meeting published in the Jan. 9 edition of The Lakeland Times, the school year for LdF students will start Aug. 16, 2018 with the last day of classes being June 21, 2019.

Within the calendar - created by a committee of LdF teachers - students will get a week off in October and November, 10 days off in December through January, a week off in March, and six days off in April. There are also additional days off in

September, February and May.

One of those teachers is John Winter, who teaches seventh grade and told the school board the majority of teachers and support staff were in favor of the change.

The idea behind a "year-round" or "balanced" school calendar is to reduce summer learning loss.

"Just an FYI, as far as the school calendar, one of the intentions of it is to provide reduced summer loss by extending and enhancing the calendar a few more weeks into the summer on both ends of the school year," superintendent Larry Ouimette explained at the meeting.

School board member Gary Smith, citing the fact there was a lot of information involved and he was unaware the board would be expected to make a decision at that meeting, provided the lone dissenting vote when school board president Mike Zimmerman, Sr. called for the vote.

During the board's February meeting last week, the new school calendar was a brief topic when Zimmerman asked if anyone in the audience wished to speak during public comment.

Other staff input

Kindergarten teacher Sue Ziebart was the first to speak.

"I guess you're wondering why we've got a lot of staff here," she said. "Is this the time we can talk about year round school calendar or no?"

"You can talk about anything you'd like to talk about for five minutes and then you're cut off," Zimmerman said.

"I guess we as a staff ... we have a lot of dissension among the staff right now," Ziebart said. "As you can tell, there's some of us here, some that aren't here who wish they could be here and others that were here that spoke on our behalf. I think ... we just want some more answers. It just seemed like it went through so fast that those of us that did put in an opinion on it didn't seem to get recognized. I don't know. That's my take on this whole thing."

"OK," Zimmerman said. "Anyone else?"

Sara Rausch, a speech and language pathologist for the district, said she was looking for more information on how students living within the Lac du Flambeau community "versus the students who also live here but their family has chosen to have them go to other districts" would be supported by the Lac du Flambeau school district.

"How were we going to support these family members who have students in all these different buildings with different schedules?" she asked. "So we all can maintain the highest level of attendance and the highest level of engagement with all the students and all the family within our communities."

"OK," Zimmerman said. "Anyone else?"

There was a question about the results of "whatever surveys that were done" done regarding changes to the school calendar whether of staff, parents or the community at large would be available to the public.

"OK," Zimmerman said again. "Anyone else?"

There was a brief pause and Smith spoke up.

"I guess it was just my concern, and I stated at the last meeting, that I don't think the entire staff had an opportunity to speak and some of them are here, representing that," he said. "That was my comment."

"OK," Zimmerman said. "I guess we'll - "

He was interrupted.

"We just have a lot of questions," Ziebart said.

Zimmerman continued with what he was saying.

"... mull over that," he said.

Ziebart repeated she wasn't sure if it was the time for the staff concerns to be brought up.

"We just feel like ... it's done," she said. "All said and done. And we're like, 'What about this? What can I do about this? You know, we have a lot of things, concerns."

"Well, Larry had a meeting with the staff, didn't they?" Zimmerman said. "Shortly after we voted on this thing?"

"Yes," Ziebart said.

"And no one has come to him at all, he told me," Zimmerman said. "Why?"

"I don't know," Ziebart said.

"No one should be afraid of getting fired or anything else," Zimmerman said. "If you've got a concern, go to the administrator and talk to him."

Another staff member said the understanding was the way it was presented was it was all done and they didn't have a choice in the matter.

Ouimette said what he'd shared with the staff after the board's approval of the new calendar was during the days there is no school and other districts and Lakeland Union High School was in session, there would be opportunities for students and families to attend other activities.

"Just like we do for a summer school or other days," he said.

Ouimette said it was also passed along to staff members if anyone had any individual concerns about the new calendar to come and see him.

"So, I did share that with all staff that were at our staff meeting and I haven't had one staff member that came in and voiced any concerns to me about the school calendar," he said. "My discussion with board member Smith and board member Zimmerman was that I'd love to have some meetings with staff and parents about any of those concerns that they have."

Fake news

Julie Smith, a special education paraprofessional, said most staff members can't attend the staff meeting.

"We all have duty in the morning," she said. "So, most things that happen in a staff meeting, we're not usually aware and with regards to the calendar, like it was stated at the last meeting, we weren't even involved in it at all nor were we asked at any level what our feelings were or how ... we just basically found out through everybody else."

"And I'd be happy to address -" Ouimette began.

"It was stated in the paper, Mr. Winters stated it in the paper that a great majority of us approved and wanted this, including support staff," Julie Smith said. "I don't know where he got that from because it didn't come from all of us."

The "paper" she was talking about is The Lakeland Times, which in its Jan. 9 edition, on the front page, had "year round" in the headline to the article about the meeting.

Year round was in quotation marks.

Zimmerman also referenced The Lakeland Times in his next set of remarks.

"Well, the ragsheet said it was a 'year-round' school," he said. "Which it is not either so you can take that for the fake news of The Lakeland Times."

Smith, unphased by some of the chuckling in the room following Zimmerman's comment, told him she understood but at the same time, there were "already feelings because we weren't involved and there's a lot of support staff here, too."

"I did not see this survey," she said. "It wasn't really a survey, per se. It wasn't really a question of whether staff wanted this or how it felt about it. It was a couple questions."

"Well, why don't we do this," Zimmerman said. "Larry is available, he's put himself out there before and he'll do it again right now. Make an appointment with Larry. Voice your concern that ... whatever. You hate this thing and reason why and so forth and we'll gather all the information and go from there. OK? How's that sound?"

After the meeting, Zimmerman was asked what prompted him to refer to what was published about the school calendar discussion in the Jan. 9 edition of The Lakeland Times as "fake news."

"It was on the front page of the paper," Zimmerman said, not saying whether or not he actually read the article. "It's not a year-round school. And that's what the front page said. 'Lac du Flambeau, year round school.' That's what it said. Look at your paper."

Zimmerman said it's not a year-round school and that isn't what the school board voted on.

"Is that 'fake news' or not?" he asked.

Ouimette, standing nearby, said technically, in order for the district to start the new calendar before the Sept. 1 due date, "we're not running year-round but it's considered 'year round.'"

Thursday, Ouimette was asked if he read the Jan. 9 Lakeland Times article.

"Yes, I did," he said.

He was then asked if he felt what the article contained was wrong.

"No," Ouimette said. "Part of it's probably on me. With the year-round school thing, some people get the misconception that you're going to school throughout the summer."

He said he'd visited with Ziebart about the school calendar Thursday morning.

"There was a discussion and there were surveys sent out last spring," Ouimette said.

He also hinted some of the "aftermath" of the school board's action wasn't totally unexpected.

"After the board passed the calendar, I talked about the calendar and that there are, obviously, a number of issues when you do something like that and we were trying to address as many of those issues as we could," Ouimette said.

As for feedback, as was mentioned at the meeting last week, he said people were invited to share their concerns.

"I didn't really have any takers on that," Ouimette said. "The only thing I had was people coming in and saying they appreciated the information that was given out and they were supportive. I guess sometimes, people are reluctant to come in if they have a different viewpoint."

He said he sent out an email to all staff members Thursday telling them "if they have any concerns or questions, please come and see me."

"I want to hear what they have to say," Ouimette said.

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com.

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