Sandy Make-Up Days May Get Split Up, BOE Says
Majority of board members seem to favor taking two days off from each weeklong holiday in 2013, and scrapping Martin Luther King holiday.
No decision has been made yet, but a majority of Board of Education members at Monday night's meeting seemed to favor making up days lost after Hurricane Sandy by shaving two days off each of the scheduled weeklong vacations next February and April.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, a recent addition to the school calendar, was also targeted as a day on which students could make up the final lost school day — at least, unless further snow days are added.
While the board seemed to favor that option, other ideas were discussed. That included the possibility of scheduling a shortened school day on a Saturday, especially if further snow days are called this winter.
"Saturdays do count for making up days, and if we got desperate, we could consider that," said School Board President Susan McGowan.
Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian was asked to check with the teachers' union — and possibly even conduct a survey of students' families — about what would be the best solution for making up the eight school days called off because of weather, lengthy power outages and roads blocked by downed trees and power lines.
The superintendent was asked to come back with a recommendation at the next school board meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Nov. 26 at the William Annin Middle School.
Although Bernards Township schools were closed for two full weeks — with power finally restored to all school buildings on Saturday night — the calendar had included two days off anyway, this past Thursday and Friday, for the annual teachers' convention in Atlantic City, canceled anyway by Sandy.
The school's calendar for this year also includes three days for inclement weather that can be applied to the recent absences.
McGowan said the board has some limitations on how it will meet the state requirements for holding 180 days of school each year. For example, she said that graduation for Ridge High School seniors is set for June 26. Contractually, the school year cannot be extended beyond June 30, she added.
The board's comments came after one parent said that he already had invested thousands of dollars in a family vacation scheduled for April 22 to 26.
However, school officials pointed out that the school calendar clearly states, "Snow days in excess of three will be made up during the spring recess beginning with Friday, April 26."
But school board members reasoned that taking two days each from the April holiday and also a weeklong vacation scheduled for February 18 to 22 would mean that students gone for the week wouldn't miss too much time.
Homework could be posted ahead of time for those two days so students could make it up while away, Board Member Elaine Kusel suggested.
Board members also spoke about the need for breaks as the school year progresses. Board Member Beverly Cwerner, saying she is a former classroom teacher, said that that going without a break from school for an extended peiod of time is "really challenging both as a teacher or as a student in the classroom."
Board Member Audrey Cohen Sherwyn said she had been in favor of adding the national Martin Luther King holiday to the school calendar, but given an "extraordinary" situation, "That's a day we need to take."
While the discussion also included the possibility of holding school on Good Friday or holding a teachers in-service day after the end of school, some board members, including Mike Byrnes, cautioned that the contract with the Bernards Education Association might preclude some of those suggestions.
And Board Member Priti Shah pointed out that although parents attending the meeting seemed to favor the idea of holding a shortened Saturday school day, other parents who hadn't heard that suggestion might not be in agreement. She said other parents also should have a chance to weigh in on the alternatives.
Byrnes agreed. "I think it would be tough to vote tonight," he said. "I don't think a week or two's delay would affect anything" if school officials want to survey teachers and maybe even students, he said.