After hearing from answered by thousands, the Bernards Board of Education on Monday gave preliminary approval to calendar changes including shortening the February 2014 vacation in order to shave six days off the last day of school in June 2014.
However, the draft of the revised calendar — on which the board is scheduled to take a final vote on March 4 — also leaves off both Diwali and Martin Luther King's birthday as school holidays.
The draft calendar, which school officials said could be revised again before the final March vote, would set Sept. 9, 2013, as the first day of the school year, and June 20 as the last.
School Board member Beverly Cwerner, who heads the board's policy subcommittee, said that coming up with a new school calendar that met educational requirements and other criteria had been challenging.
"It became clear that no decision was going to please everyone," Cwerner said at Monday's meeting.
Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian said the revised calendar also took into account the results of an online survey completed by 2,092 township parents, 333 juniors and seniors and 555 staff members in the school district. Contractual obligations also helped shape the calendar, he said.
The initial printed version of the draft had students starting school on Sept. 3, 2013, the Tuesday following Labor Day.
However, Markarian said that teachers had never been asked before to report back for an in-service day in August prior to Labor Day, which falls this year on Sept. 2.
He said some teachers had other obligations through Labor Day since the 2013-14 school calendar had been adopted about two years ago, in December 2010.
Markarian indicated he did not think it was a good idea for students to begin school on a Wednesday, have Thursday scheduled for a day off as the Rosh Hashanah holiday, and then return on Friday for the first week.
So the start date was moved back to Sept. 9, as originally planned in the version of the draft accepted on Monday.
An extra day was saved by canceling the scheduled holiday for Martin Luther King's birthday on Jan. 20.
The biggest changes were with the week off in February, and the rescheduling of the April spring recess. The Bernards school district now is the only school system in Somerset County to schedule school off for two full weeks instead of one in the second half of the year, according to a chart presented by Markarian.
The draft calendar schedules two days off next Feb. 17 to 18, instead of Feb. 24 to 28.
The April vacation has been rescheduled for April 7 to 11, instead of April 18, Good Friday, through April 25 in the previously adopted calendar. Good Friday remains a holiday on either calendar.
Cwerner said the April holiday had been moved up to earlier in the month to make the week off about halfway between the winter holiday and the proposed end of the school year.
The survey sent to parents asked for specific holidays they would like to see included on the calendar.
Although parents and students from the township's Indian community have petitioned and shown up at repeated meetings to request that the festival of Diwali be scheduled as a day off, about 50 percent of parental respondents said they would strongly oppose the day as a holiday. About 3 percent said they would favor adding Diwali as a holiday to next year's calendar, and about 7.5 percent said they are strongly in favor of Diwali as a holiday.
In an open-ended question about holidays, 46 respondents said they would like to see Chinese New Year added as a school holiday.
In the parental survey, the largest percentage — 48.21 percent — said they wanted the school year to end between three to six days earlier than the last day scheduled for June 26 both in 2013 and originally in 2014.
Another 26.82 percent said they would like to see the school day end seven to 10 days earlier, and 14.47 percent said they would like no changes to be made to next year's calendar.
In the student survey, 65.8 percent of the Ridge High School juniors and seniors said they would like to see school end seven to 10 days earlier, but at the same time 45 percent said they would like to keep the full two weeks off in 2014, while taking away some individual holidays, Markarian said.
Markarian and the board members asked for community input in the way of emails and comments at the March 4 meeting that might affect the final calendar for next year expected to be adopted that night.
On Monday, parent Dara Tupler told the board that she already has booked plans for the previously scheduled week off in April 2014, especially since part of this year's April vacation was reduced to make up for days lost to Hurricane Sandy.
According to the website, the public can send emails to BoardMembers@bernardsboe.com.