Rooting for snow in January? Ontario schools will be in recess for a few months next year

Ontario’s high schools will return to a four-month calendar in February after schools were forced to cancel classes in late January in response to an opioid crisis that hit close to home.

It’s not unheard of for Ontario schools to move to a shorter calendar in the winter and spring. Some schools get the idea from trips to the U.S. school year — part of why a Boston elementary school officially adopted a summer-only summer in 2014.

It’s the combination of five consecutive days of classes canceled at Ontario schools that led to the group’s change to the previous calendar plan, which had schools taking a four-month break in January — as in, all but one of the last 15 days of the month — in response to a crisis affecting an entire community.

The January shutdown was sparked by opioid overdoses — and remains a common response to such crises, according to the Epilepsy Foundation of Ontario.

This is the first time that this many schools have been asked to close on one day, so the group worked on the proposal during the 2016-17 school year, said Michael Clerkin, chair of the Ontario Board of Education’s Parent Advisory Council, which advised the school board on the new plan.

“There was a lot of research on calendars,” Clerkin said. “There’s no precedent here.”

Under the new plan, schools will take an extra full day off each April and February, coinciding with Ontario’s two busiest smoking seasons. The students will go from staggered to punctual.

Clerkin said the impact will be “really negligible,” since large school districts, like Toronto, closed in the winter on previous basis, he said.

The Ontario government quickly welcomed the plan, saying it would be best for students and parents, The Globe and Mail reported.

“Since you’re adding two weeks, you end up with a year with almost two weeks less instruction time,” Andrew MacDougall, spokesman for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, told the newspaper. “There’s just less time in the classroom for students to learn. It’s much more disruptive.”

School boards in the U.S. generally only shut down for good on a few months when there’s snow in the forecast, said Peter Hennick, executive director of the National Association of School Psychologists. But a few schools adopted winter breaks in response to school closures in the winter of 2013-14, he said.

Since some U.S. states might be in a late snow-storm pattern this year, they might also consider such scheduling, said Hennick, who is also director of the Family Focus Therapy Clinic at Northridge University in suburban Los Angeles.

“They could put all of their kids out on the afternoon of Jan. 2,” Hennick said. “It’s not an extreme extreme.”

The American School Counselor Association also calls for changes to “most traditional calendars,” but adds that “home-schooled kids can be taught traditionally during the holidays, too.”

Nancy Cannon, executive director of the Head Start Association of America, a nonprofit representing Head Start providers, said she would like to see all educators and early-childhood programs move away from the notion that children need the extra five months of summer vacation.

“Head Start is a day-care and summer-learning program,” Cannon said. “Kids need a combination of academic intervention and healthy enrichment opportunities. They need the joy of summer, but they also need academic rigor and enrichment learning in the regular school year.”

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