School board restores 2015 winter break

FI-greenwich-town-sealPeople looking for the return of a winter recess in 2015 for the Greenwich Public Schools got what they were looking for last week when the Board of Education unanimously approved restoring the break.

As part of the newly revised calendar for the 2014-15 school year, which could well be the last one before a universal calendar for all Connecticut public schools is put into place, students will be off from school from Monday, Feb. 9, until Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. Students would not return to class until Tuesday, Feb. 17, after the federal Presidents Day holiday on Feb. 16. This was the longest of the potential options the board could have considered and was believed to be the most popular in the community.

The winter break had initially been eliminated last year during the annual vote on the school calendar. At the time, the board, by a five-to-three vote, said that reducing the break to a four-day weekend built around Presidents Day made sense because of several years of extreme weather using up all the reserved “snow days” on the calendar. That meant summer break had to be reduced so students could be in class for the number of days mandated by the state. By eliminating the recess, the board said, it hoped to eliminate the need to do that, but the action was immediately unpopular, forcing the change a year later.

The vote came on the heels of a survey being sent out by the district to parents and staff members to get their feelings on the length of a winter recess. According to the district, 2,613 parents and 936 staff members completed the survey, and 55% of the parents approved of the Feb. 9 to 13 break that the board implemented, with 45% of staff members saying they supported it. Of the options put forth in the survey, the original calendar with the four-day weekend proved to be the least popular, getting only 25% support from both parents and staff.

Reopening a closed item is a rare occurrence for the board, but debate on this issue was quick and unanimous, given the parent reaction to last year’s elimination of the winter recess. Several speakers at the board’s Jan. 23 meeting where the calendar was changed praised the board for restoring the break.

“Having a February school break of at least a week’s duration serves the best interests of the majority of Greenwich public school students and their families,” parent Neil Lubarsky said. “It is clearly in the best interest of the students’ education as well as in the students’ and their parents’ best financial and emotional interests for such a break to be provided. If the February break is being eliminated or truncated for the purpose of insuring a longer summer break, the goal is improper and the educational result will likely be negative.”

Mr. Lubarsky cited studies showing that the longer a summer break is, the more trouble students have due to skill regression, putting them behind when the new school year starts. He said having the longer February break instead gives students “a much-needed rest” that can allow them to relax and better handle stress. Mr. Lubarsky added that having a February break also gives families who can’t travel during the Christmas break due to high prices for plane tickets and hotels a much more economical time for a vacation.

Parents thanked the board for having the survey, and Chitra Sundaram added, “Greenwich is different and special. Families like mine moved to Greenwich because we loved the fact that the Board of Education in this town actually does see itself as representatives of the families in town and don’t act in an autonomous fashion.”

Board Vice Chairman Jennifer Dayton said the credit for the survey had to go to the district’s director of communications, Kim Eves, who, she said, put the survey together “under extreme time pressure.”

Another parent urged the board to take further action on the 2014-15 calendar, but there was no willingness to do so. Harry Fisher said he was upset to see that school would be in session this coming November on Veterans Day and instead suggested not having class that day and making up the day by having class on Columbus Day, saying it was a mistake to keep pushing the “myth” that Christopher Columbus discovered America.

“To take out Veterans Day and to fail to continue to honor the veterans who sacrificed so much for this country, I think, is a real slap in the face,” Mr. Fisher said. “I urge you to restore it.”

Mr. Fisher’s comments did receive a direct response from Superintendent of Schools William McKersie, who stressed that while there would be school on Veterans Day, the day would not go ignored.

“As the son of a veteran and someone who has many veterans in my family, this is not a light issue for us,” Dr. McKersie said. “We have quite substantial veterans programs for our schools. Riverside School, for sure, has one and Cos Cob School brought out 60 veterans last year to honor and celebrate them. This will happen across the district. We will not take lightly that we have school this day. We’re trying to make it deeper and richer, that understanding of all that veterans have done for this country.”

A previous Board of Education several years ago had considered putting students in class on Columbus Day. However, that proposal brought about a backlash from Greenwich’s Italian community and packed meetings with people arguing over whether to have school on Veterans Day or Columbus Day. Ultimately, the board, because of the backlash, abandoned the plan and school remained out of session on both days.

Under this revised calendar, which will have five snow days built into it, school is set to end on June 19, 2015.


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