Spring Break May Get Cut for Sandy Make-Up Days
Board of education considers how to make up time lost in storm's aftermath.
The board of education is preparing to make a decision on make-up days due to Hurricane Sandy based on two plans that could eliminate much of spring break if additional snow days are needed.
After having to close the district for more than a week because of power outages caused by the hurricane, Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder began to devise several plans for making up the days.
"Every bit of information I am hearing is that the governor and education commission will not forgive having to make up those days," he said at Tuesday's board of education meeting.
According to Schilder, after closing for power outages, the schools are broken up into two categories based on how many days they were closed.
The Bridgewater-Raritan High School, Hillside Intermediate School, Bradley Gardens Primary, Hamilton Primary, John F. Kennedy Primary, Milltown Primary and Van Holten Primary were all closed for six days due to the hurricane, but got two of those days back by being open on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9, both originally scheduled as days off.
From there, Schilder said, they had three snow days built in, so those schools only have to make up one day.
Schilder said he devised four different possible plans for making up the days. The first, he said, does not take into account having used the already built-in snow days, and therefore extends the school year until June 26 for some schools and June 27 for others.
"It assumes we will need the snow days," he said.
The second proposal uses Feb. 15 as make-up days for all schools, and April 1 as the make-up day for the four schools that lost two extra days. From there, because it uses the snow days already built in, if additional snow days are needed, they are taken from spring break and June 21, the day after the planned graduation.
The third plan is similar, but it eliminates Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 21, as a day off, and uses that as a make-up day, as well as Feb. 18 for those four latter schools requiring the extra day. From there, Feb. 15 and several days during spring break are designated if extra snow days are needed.
Finally, the fourth plan sets Feb. 15 as a hurricane make-up day, as well as April 1, and tacks on additional make-up days, as needed, to the end of the year.
But, Schilder said, there are problems with adding days to the end of the year, namely with graduation and Project Graduation.
"With the last plan, we are not going to know the graduation day until after the winter season is over," he said. "The plus of the first plan is that even though we will elongate the school year, we can set the graduation date, and whether we have a mild winter or a severe one, we know the graduation date."
"But if we have a mild winter, we would not reduce days at the end of the year because the give back days in the original calendar were for the middle of the year," he added. "Some would see that as illogical."
Most board members said they would prefer the second and third plans, which do not extend the school year and instead use already approved make-up days as collateral if a harsh winter closes the schools at all for the rest of the year.
"I like [the third plan] because there is potentially the least impact on spring break, and it leverages the use of February and in-service days," said board member Cindy Cullen. "I believe the challenges with extending the year beyond the norm is that summer programs start the last week in June and that will have a detrimental impact on the programs the kids are involved in."
But board president Evan Lerner said he does not agree with opening the school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 21, which was included in Schilder's third option.
"Although not a religious observance, to many it is tantamount, and I think it should be afforded that," Lerner said.
In addition, Lerner said, he is concerned that some families may have already prepared for vacations during spring break, many of which are non-refundable should they be required to hold school those days.
Board member Lynne Hurley said she sees it as more of a problem if they were to add days to the end of the year.
"The problem is Project Graduation itself, becuase it becomes really difficult to schedule, and parents and grandparents are flying in from out of the district," Schilder said. "Not knowing graduation until late March or early April is difficult."
Discussions also centered on which days off to remove during spring break because of the start of the celebration of Passover—and board member Jill Gladstone said she would prefer to definitely have the first full day of the holiday off in exchange for putting Feb. 18 (the Monday after Presidents' Day Weekend) as a possible make-up day.
This helps with the determination of which spring break days to eliminate as the board was hesitant on choosing March 25, March 26 or March 27—Passover begins the evening of March 25, with the first full day on March 26.
"The beauty of the second plan is that you get a little bit of everything and lose a little bit," Schilder said. "You still get one day off for Presidents' Day. And you get at least one day of spring break. It's not great, but it's good enough."
Student representative Suvin Song said she would rather have no spring break and end school earlier in June because AP exams are usually held around the time of spring break. She would prefer, she said, to be studying in school.
"More time in school would help us be more prepared," she said. "If you make the year longer, people will be more sick of things."
"I would rather be studying for APs in school, and then say that summer is coming really soon," she added.
Dave Doheny, teacher at the high school and representative from the Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association, said he is just concerned about teachers losing more in-service days. They already lost Nov. 6 because of the storm, and Jan. 21 is usually another one, which would be lost if the students are required to be in school.
And several residents said they would not advocate adding school days on to the end of the year because of vacations planned and camps starting the week after school ends around June 21.
Resident Liz Lande said she could also see the downside of not having a spring break.
"I think the elementary school kids are going to dislike not having a spring break, but you are not going to make everyone happy no matter how you do it," she said. "It doesn't really matter what you pick, but pick something and make sure it's clear."
At the end, the board decided it wanted some sort of hybrid between the second and third options Schilder had presented, based on the fact that they would like to see students have Jan. 21 off while it serves as an in-service day for teachers. They also are looking to avoid adding days to the end of the school year.
Schilder is expected to present a new plan at the Nov. 27 board meeting, when the board will make its final decision.