Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How Long Beach public schools favor one religion

In U.S. history class, students learn that the separation of church and state is one of the most important principles in the founding of the United States.

This barrier between government and religion is designed to prevent politicians from favoring one faith at the expense of others, and to keep large religions from using the power of government to impose their beliefs on others.

Perhaps the leaders of the public schools in Long Beach, California, need to go back to the classroom and learn this principle again.

For at least nine years, the Long Beach Unified School District has scheduled its spring break to coincide with a single religion's holiday: Easter.

Look at the dates of the LBUSD spring break for the last eight years, below.

2008: Easter on March 23, spring break started March 24.
2009: Easter on April 12, spring break started April 13
2010: Easter on April 4, spring break started April 5
2011: Easter on April 25, spring break started April 26
2012: Easter on April 8, spring break started April 9
2013: Easter on March 31, spring break started April 1
2014: Easter on April 20, spring break started April 21
2015: Easter on April 5, spring break started April 6

If Easter fell on the same day every year, like Christmas, the school district could argue that it is just a coincidence that a break is taken at the same time. But in fact, Easter hops around the calendar like a kid on a pogo stick. And Long Beach schools follow right along, like a eager puppy.

In 2015, the school district took things a step further, declaring Good Friday, the day Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, also a holiday.

To disguise the fact that a secular public school district was honoring a religious holiday, Long Beach schools said that they were simply taking April 3 off for California Admission Day.  There are couple problems with that: Admission Day is an almost unheard-of holiday in California, and besides, it falls on Sept. 9, not April 3. 

Long Beach public schools do not schedule any breaks to coincide with Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu holidays, or any other religion besides Christianity. The separation of church and state in this instance is so blatantly violated that I'm surprised the district hasn't been sued.

Schedules for the next two school years show that the pattern will continue, with Spring Break following immediately after Easter, and "Admission Day" just coincidentally falling on the same day as Good Friday.

This isn't just a matter of principle. Shifting spring break erratically around the calendar raises various other issues.

Teachers would like to have spring break at a predictable point in the schedule so lessons and units can be planned appropriately. No one wants to have a test or have an assignment come due immediately after a break. Course schedules have to be adjusted every year because of the ever-shifting break schedule.

Students would be served best by a break that comes midway between winter break and summer vacation not too early and not too late.

Also, when spring break falls particularly late in April it comes very close to big state tests. Students return from their time off to suddenly intense test preparation.

Last, I don't understand why anyone who celebrates Easter would want it to fall during the spring break.  It's hard to fit in Easter events at the same time as a spring break trip.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: Pine Springs Campground in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

If you're visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park in far western Texas and want to spend the night, you've pretty much got one choice: The Pine Springs Campground inside the park.

There are no hotels, motels or other campgrounds nearby. Yep, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. That's part of the appeal.

My kids and I spent two nights at Pine Springs Campground in early April 2015. It's a pretty location, but if you're thinking of heading there, let me give you some important tips.

First, it's a small campground. It has just 20 sites, and one of those is for handicapped visitors. When we pulled in at about 2 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, nearly all the sites were taken. We grabbed the first empty site we saw. (There is also an adjacent parking area for RVs. No hookups.)

So if you're coming to camp during one of Guadalupe's busy seasons spring or fall be sure to get there early. Note: If all the other sites are taken, non-handicapped campers are allowed to use the handicapped site.

Note also that all the campsites, except for the handicapped one, are "walk-in" sites. That is, you have a walk of 20 to 30 yards from the car to each site. I like that it gives the campground a more natural feel but it does mean numerous trips back and forth to your car with your gear.

Most importantly, be prepared for WIND. Throughout our stay, the wind blew through in repeated blasts and gusts. I'd say it averaged around 25 mph. Our poor tent, which we held down with large rocks inside and outside, was battered day and night, sometimes leaning almost sideways. The flapping and shuddering of the tent made for uneasy sleep.

It may not always be that windy, but from what I've heard and read, it frequently is. Check the weather report before you come. It helps if you have a lower-profile tent (not one of those you can stand up in). A good-sized hammer to pound tent pegs into the hard ground might help, but you'll most likely still need rocks.

No camp fires are allowed at Pine Springs, given the dry surroundings and the wind. Camp stoves are fine.

There is running water at the camp site, but it's not very convenient. You either have to use a drinking fountain at one end of the campground, or walk up to the adjoining RV parking lot. There is a washing sink available or at least there was. On the second day we were there, the sink was mysteriously cordoned off and a trench was dug around it.

The charge for camping at Pine Springs is $8 a night. While I'm the last person to want to pay more for anything, I think that's too cheap. You could easily charge $16 a night, and then put some of that extra money into fixing up the campground and maybe adding some more campsites.

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