This week's discussion at the Board of Education meeting regarding whether the school year ends too late in June and whether the Indian festival of Diwali should be added as a school holiday brought back to the front burner a topic that's been brought up several times.
On Monday, two parents spoke up and reminded the board that hundreds of residents had either sent e-mails or signed a petition about the same time asking why with the township's Indian population growing, Diwali can't added as a day off on future school calendars. Diwali, the Festival of Lights, falls on Nov. 13 this year.
But even before the parents' comments, Board Member Beverly Cwerner had reported that the board's policy committee had been planning to re-examine future school calendars, with a focus on the late final day of school each June.
Cwerner said the last day of school for 2012-13 is scheduled for June 26, and on June 24 the following year. Some complaints have been logged that such late dates interfere with summer jobs or other important events that students have scheduled over the summer, she said at Monday's meeting.
She said that alternatives to be examined include consolidating breaks or starting earlier in September.
Cwerner also said those planning the school calendar would like to try to come up with a way to try to determine the community's values on what they want in the school calendar.
This is the second year that the board has heard meetings at public meetings asking why Diwali isn't part of the school calendar.
"We want to send the message to our kids that their culture is respected," said Sundari Arni, one of the two mothers who spoke before the board on Monday.
She said that children in the Indian community are asking why other children are able to celebrate their holidays have a day off, without having to make up their work at a later time.
The parents then pointed out that two Jewish holidays, and Martin Luther King's Birthday are included on this year's school calendar.
All of which still leads back to the main question — just how long should the school year be extended? And how to decide when school holidays and extended vacations should be scheduled?
Part of the issue is that Bernards Township, unlike neighboring districts such as the Somerset Hills School District, has two full one-week vacations each February and April. The February vacation this year runs from Feb. 18 to Feb. 22, and the April vacation is scheduled for April 22 to 26.
In comparison, Somerset Hills schools schedule a four-day weekend around Presidents Day, with a one-week vacation between April 1 to 5.
Yet, when this editor asked former School Board President Susan Carlsson why the February vacation might not be shortened, her answer was unsurprising — many families want that time to take a week's vacation together.
So if "ski week" is valued in this town, could the April vacation be shortened?
Do you feel that only federal holidays should be part of the school calendar, as some have suggested? Or is that really unfair, since Christmas is a religious holiday as well as a nationally recognized day off?
And, as well as recognizing holidays, what about spacing out time off? Don't children get exhausted during some of the "long spells" between vacations or long weekends when the school year is at its most challenging?
Would you rather that school get out earlier? Or is later in June fine with you, especially considering that many high school students don't go to the last day of school?
Is it disrespectful to recognize one group's holiday while ignoring another's?
Please let us know in the comments section below.