The Hays USD 489 school board approved calendars for the 2024-25 and 2025-26 school years at its meeting Monday.

The calendars for both school years include one Monday off per month for students so teachers can have professional development days.

The schedule for both years will start later in August to better align with the Kansas State High School Athletics Association schedule.

Superintendent Ron Wilson said the calendar committee was presenting two years' worth of calendars because the companies working on the bond construction needed to know school stop and start dates.

The nine full professional days as opposed to early release days were requested by teachers and subsequently negotiated into their contract last year.

Wilson said Mondays were chosen because several also fall on federal holidays, which would give some families more time to spend together.

Board member Allen Park asked if the district is giving any support to parents on the days off.

Board member Jayme Goetz, who used to be a district teacher, said she found it difficult to make the transition between teaching and professional development on the early release days.

Goetz said she understands some families have difficulty finding child care, but the full in-service days are better for the staff, and that ultimately benefits students.

"The quality of instruction was not good, and the quality of the professional development was not good," she said.

Board President Ken Brooks said he prefers the full days of in-service. He said it was more of an inconvenience for him as a single dad to leave work to pick up kids in the middle of the day. On full days off, he knows his kids are at home.

Board member Meagan Zampieri-Lillpopp said, as a parent, she also prefers the full days off for students as opposed to the early release days.

Board member Derek Yarmer said the hospital does not close for professional development.

He suggested teachers be required to attend in-service on Labor Day during fall and spring breaks.

Zampieri-Lillpopp  said, "We are an education organization. ... It is not our mission to provide child care."

She said providing afterschool care and free breakfast has helped the community deal with some of its systemic problems.

"This time the rest of the community needs to come together and join us to take care of kids," she said.

Board member Ruth Ruder said child care is a larger community issue, which the Child Care Task Force of Ellis County has been working to address. However, she said she agreed the main mission of the school district is to educate children.

Teacher Sonya Herl, O'Loughlin Elementary School teacher, told the board the full days of professional development are not only valuable to teachers but to students.

"It's not just lesson plans," she said. "We're really talking about standards and test scores and ideas we have."

The 37-year veteran teacher said the half days did not give teachers the time they needed to focus on student needs. 

"We are really looking at every single student and how to reach them better," she said.

Don Tillman, resident, spoke briefly to the board during the public comment session. You can read his letter on issues he has with the current calendar here.

The calendars were approved 5-2 with Park and Yarmer voting against the motion.