School Board keeps April break for now, looks ahead to next year

April break isn’t quite a goner yet on the Greenwich Public Schools calendar, but it’s going to take a lack of snow this winter to keep it around.

Last week, by a 6-1 margin, the Board of Education approved a solution to the Hurricane Sandy-caused calendar crunch in the district by removing vacation days from the April 15-19 break, but only if necessary. Cleanup from the storm caused six school days to be lost from the calendar, and while one was added back on by reopening school on a scheduled day off for Veterans Day, the district is now facing having only one possible additional snow day available in case of further bad weather this winter. Schools in Connecticut are mandated to be in session for 180 days, and if more snow days are needed than are available, days have to be added to the calendar.

Under the plan approved at the Nov. 15 board meeting, specific days will be added back to the calendar if further cancellations are needed. If there is another snow day, the first day would be added by having school in session on Monday, June 24, at the end of the year. But if there is a need for more, that’s when April break will start to disappear. A second cancellation would force school to be open on Friday, April 19, a third would add Thursday, April 18, a fourth Wednesday, April 17, and if six days were required, it would remove the entire break.

But that would be triggered only if additional weather cancellations were necessary. Last year Greenwich was able to get through the entire winter without snow days. This option was determined as the best of the three that were presented. One alternative would have been to remove the April break days before having school on June 25, and another would have been to put the June 25 date as the makeup for a third snow day, with the April break days effectively sandwiching it on the chopping block.

“Of all the options this one seems the least disruptive,” board member Jennifer Dayton said about the approved option, adding it would give families enough time to make plans.

“These are really extraordinary circumstances and I don’t think anybody likes it,” board member Peter Sherr said. He added that he hoped the state would take action to alleviate the problem but that in the past the state’s board of education had shown “very little tolerance for shrinking the state’s annual calendar.”

Board Chairman Leslie Moriarty said this was all being done now to be able to send a clear message to teachers, staff and families about what was going to happen and to make sure it was publicized. She said a plan had to be set so people could make plans accordingly. A suggestion was made last week by board member Steven Anderson to take the days from February break and not April, but there wasn’t much support for it because board members thought it wouldn’t give sufficient notice to staff and families.

“When we first adopted this calendar we indicated that April break would be where we go for our changes,” Ms. Moriarty said. “We’re halfway through the school year now, and given that February is not that far away, it’s not fair to staff and families to make the change at this time in the year. I think it’s a good idea, but I don’t support it now.”

Mr. Anderson was the lone vote against the change, citing his belief it would be more educationally valuable to have those days in February.

“Someone’s unhappy with February, someone’s unhappy with April and someone’s unhappy with June,” Mr. Anderson said. “I think we need to do what’s best for the continuity of the education of our children.”

Looking ahead, the board also began its discussion about the 2014-15 school calendar. In that discussion the board largely focused on the individual days off scheduled. Board members expressed a preference for continuing to have school on Veterans Day because it would provide more educational opportunities than a day off would.

“We already have Election Day off the week before, so we would have two four-day weeks in a row,” board member Adriana Ospina said. “The object of Veterans Day is to honor the veterans, and I don’t think I’m the only one that if I take that day off I’m not exactly doing too much to honor the veterans. If they’re in school, that’s what they’re doing. That’s what they’re thinking about. I think it would be a more memorable day for everybody if they are in school.”

Mr. Sherr said if that happens he would want to see a “robust” curriculum focused on veterans. He praised the district’s efforts, including guest speakers, to have that this year when Veterans Day was added back to the calendar and said there should be more if it is added back next year as well, since there would be more notice and time to plan.

“I think there should be a full-day focus on the sacrifices veterans make to serve our country and protect our democracy,” Mr. Sherr said.

Board member Nancy Kail said the board should take another look at potentially having school on Columbus Day. That was considered years ago and resulted in an outcry from Greenwich’s Italian community, but with so many storms in the past three years knocking out school for days, it could well be considered again. Ms. Kail and Mr. Anderson also wondered if full weeks were needed for both February and April breaks.

Ms. Moriarty expressed some reservations about having school on Columbus Day, saying it seemed “more ingrained” as a holiday. She suggested instead having school on Election Day. Since it will be an off-year election with only municipal offices being contested, there is expected to be far less turnout than this year with the presidential race on top of the ballot. On having the weeklong breaks, Ms. Moriarty said this had been discussed in prior years and the public seemed split 50/50 on the idea of eliminating some of those days and which month they should come from. The board leaned toward potentially reducing the February break to a long weekend, but no final decisions have been made yet.

Superintendent of Schools William McKersie said there is “good thinking” that questions how much February break is needed and that the April break is “quite, quite significant for educators” because of how many days in a long run students and teachers would be in school without it.

This was only the first discussion about the 2014-15 calendar, and it’s not expected to be voted on until the Dec. 20 meeting, People will have the opportunity to speak about it at public hearings before that vote.

 

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