Moms Talk: Is School Calendar Due for an Overhaul?

Is it time to give up that full week in February? Should Diwali be a school holiday?

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.


Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) October 10, 2012 at 10:08 PM
I never minded having my kids occupied in school well into June. And I like having that extra time over an extended Labor Day holiday. But how do others feel about our usual beginning/end dates for the school year?
Colleen Epple Pine October 10, 2012 at 10:53 PM
This is such a timely topic. In our home, we embrace and celebrate many holidays, and to have to pick and choose if one is more "important" or valued than another would be impossible. I believe Basking Ridge has reached a time where certain holiday observations could be reconsidered based on surveying the practices in our area. We also need to remember that it's not simply our demographic but also that of the staff, faculty, bus drivers, etc. I also believe that our schools' practice is if a student observes a holiday and does not attend school, s/he is not penalized as long as a note is submitted to that end. I like to look at things from all sides when possible, and if suddenly Good Friday were not an observed school holiday or Yom Kippur, I'd be speechless. I would have to assume that this is the exact same feeling for those who wish to celebrate at home or in a place of worship during a holiday if not given the same liberties. As your children move on to college, you will be amazed to see what holidays are not observed in any fashion and the choice rests on the student to decide what is the right thing to do in each specific situation. Really great topic!
Christina Ehret October 10, 2012 at 11:06 PM
While I am sure there are reasons as to why this wouldn't work, I would consider the concept of "floating" holidays. The school would be in session for certain days but students could take a day off (with the understanding that there is no homework obligation) and celebrate respective holidays. I don't love how far into June we are dismissed but any mom will tell you that a break in February is great for health reasons (flu, lice, etc.).
Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) October 10, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Thank you, both, for your insightful comments. There are indeed practical reasons for the February vacation even, I believe, saving money in heating costs and cleaning up during inclement weather. Does anyone think that possibly shaving a few days off the April holiday might be a good idea?
Laura October 10, 2012 at 11:57 PM
From my experience, the problem with just keeping your child home for a religious observance is that they then have double the homework to catch up on and sometimes also have tests and make ups the first day back. It ends up feeling like a penalty for them. If the teachers were properly trained and mandated to avoid those scheduling conflicts and would also either refrain from or excuse homework those days, it would be less of a problem for parents to just keep their own child out for a holiday and not have to close the school.
Deborah Naude October 11, 2012 at 12:55 AM
As a reminder from a past board meeting, some holidays that we take off are in the teachers contracts, protected by the Union. I remember years ago the BOE wanted to take Good Friday off the calendar as a Holiday but could not because it was in the teachers contracts. A Board member brought up this very point last year. There are also Federal Holidays that this country as a whole takes off. We have only this year added some of those to our school calendar for better or for worse. While changes might seem easy, it is clear that there are contract specifics that we may not know about and of course having the proper number of school days all come into play. We are a multicultural nation, but I dont expect you all to take a South African holiday off for my family. If I as a parent felt strongly that my children should be home on our given day, I would keep them home. Our schools are very, very respectful of all our cultures. We should applaud our administration for all they do! There is just no way to continue to add cultural holidays to the calendar as district days off. I am for starting school earlier in September and ending school earlier in June. We have been successful for years with this schedule. It needs to get back on track. Two years school ago ended on June 22nd and there were no complaints.
Janice Z October 11, 2012 at 12:30 PM
We live in a very diverse community and the school needs to recognize that, both in the days off provided and in the expectations of students over those days off. While I appreciated greatly that the district provided days off for both Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur this year, I did not appreicate the attitude of teachers that these were simply days off from school, so homework was given. There is a misperception that students celebrating those holidays are not expected to complete their work. I specifically asked for a delayed due date on an assignment given over the Yom Kippur holiday and was told by the teacher that my child had the choice of not completing the work and getting a zero. That did not seem like a choice to me. When we did not have days off for those holidays, absences were treated like sick days and the usual policies apply. Teachers need to be better educated about district policies/holidays, and they need some amending as well. That said, I would be in favor of shortening and consolidating the Feb. and April breaks in order to accomodate the holiday schedules (including Diwali) and a slightly earlier end date in June. I think the school board needs to conduct a survey of the parents in the district to obtain significant feedback on this issue. The community has changed a lot in the last ten years, both in diversity and in the number of two parent working families, affecting attitudes toward the calendar. It's time for a community wide reconsideration!
jmh October 11, 2012 at 01:37 PM
I certainly don't mind giving another day off for a religious holiday..however, I do not feel the school year is too long. I, for one, feel American children are not given the best of education. For instance, Finland has one of the best school systems and although they go year around, they have the same amount of time off as American children. The teachers are revered and are considered just as important as Doctors. I think the school calendar change is a start but we as a society need to change our educational ideas. We are no longer an agrarian society.
Anonymous October 21, 2012 at 05:16 PM
I do agree that the school year should not be cut. Also more holidays is a pain for working parents. However, we need to be fair to all communities. Giving more holidays to one section of the community is not fair. Lets cut down all religious holidays to a minimum. Lets just keep the winter break during end of the year, the regular July 4th, Memorial day, Thanksgiving and Labor day along with any spring break. This way it fair to all communities. if people want to take off for religious holidays they can take off based on their preference but school should be in session
Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 02:33 PM
This is never popular in our town, but I think anything that shortens our summer is a good thing. Having 11 weeks off between end of June to a couple days after Labor Day is too much, the data strongly supports that our children's academics suffer since they forget so much,, and spend the first 2 months of school re-learning & refreshing, esp. math. I believe this is the underlying key as to why American children have fallen so far behind in maths compared to the rest of the industiralized world. I'm not saying more days in school is the answer, but shorter summer with more breaks spread throughout the calendar year. The US is the only industrialized country to have a summer as long as we do. More school year breaks would also allow for observance of the diversity of religious holidays. Since I know a shorter summer isn't going to happen any time soon in this country, I do support starting the school year earlier. There are so many disruptions to the fall calendar between teacher conferences, teacher conventions, Jewish Holidays, Thanksgiving, etc. It wasn't until mid-October our kids had their first complete 5 day week of school. Maybe if they started earlier they'd be able to get into the swing of things easier, despite all the interruptions.
esther January 26, 2013 at 04:25 AM
I agree with you. Kids who have to leave earlier than the last day of school for camp, football camps, college interviews, etc... can make individual arrangements with the school. I like the traditional Labor Day weekend. If it's that big of a problem- which I don't think it is- take two or three days from the President's Day week- and keep April in tact.
esther January 26, 2013 at 04:27 AM
I think days could be sliced from February=it's really part of the "meat and potatoes" part of the school year. I am uncomfortable discussing religious holidays because of the sensitive nature of them but President's week can maintain two days off for a long weekend and preserve three days in an effort to shorten the school year. Lots of districts have done this.
esther January 26, 2013 at 04:30 AM
I have fought for years, had numerous phone calls with former superintendent Goger- sent calendars for her edification, and teachers rarely if ever respected the holidays-have tests, homework, projects, etc... If the administrative team does not embrace the holidays with respect and communicate same to staff- nothing happens and the kids struggle to make up. Not sure it's different with Markarian and current board.
esther January 26, 2013 at 04:32 AM
List 10 districts in this state that hold classes on Martin Luther King's Birthday- that's a federal holiday that this district has never honored it. Again- the board and the superintendent's office to blame. Talk about out of touch.
esther January 26, 2013 at 04:36 AM
Case in point- sorry about your experience but mine has been the same in basking ridge. While the community is getting more diverse the board's response is disinterest and staying ignorant of the changing dynamic. Religious absences are not to be held against the student for any reason at any time. As a matter of fact there is a list the state provides to districts to comply with people's religious holidays. Teachers who do not honor these with homework extension or no tests/quizzes are only adding to the discrimination and isolation so many children who do not belong to the mainstream religion. It's not subtle and should not be tolerated.
esther January 26, 2013 at 04:37 AM
School is over before July 4th-always has been.
esther January 26, 2013 at 04:42 AM
etc.. does that include Christmas and Good Friday? Teacher conferences could be easily handled in the evenings but those days aren't lost because students attend early release sessions which are considered days of school. Summers, and statistics back this up, are times for children to go places, have experiences, relax and refuel. These are many opportunities to provide educational programs as well. For some children summer camp gives them a chance to shine and explore new opportunities which enhance their self esteem which only adds to their abiity to excel in school.
c March 08, 2013 at 01:18 PM
As a mother who's child will be leaving this school district and graduating I feel I have something to say. This particular school district is located in a very affluent area of the country as a whole. Many people moved here because of just that. The district also has a great rating as far as the school system goes that is also true. But what is missing...everyone talks about what they want or what they need or think is fair. Always has to be fair. This I feel trickles down to the children whom I have observed since a very young age and now are grown or supposed to be. Their life ahead will not be fair or equal as they face their road. They have been taught that they deserve. Deserve what ? Why is their the same discussion about school holidays. Why is there no Christmas Tree in school? I was in school a Christmas Tree was always in the center hall of my public grammar, middle ,and high school. No one was offended or even discussed it just was.... We are no longer allowed since my son first went to Kindergarten to have a school,Christmas party. It was a snow celebration.When my son was in third grade he came home wanting to become Jewish so he could receive gifts for eight nights. I didn't get angry I laughed and said honey it is wonderful but we are not Jewish. . My son has always been taught different beliefs but we celebrate what we celebrate. Isn't it the parents responsibility to teach your children your values and beliefs at home. That is where your traditions are .
Mom2twins May 08, 2013 at 05:16 PM
I love your comments "c". So true! Thank you for speaking up about fairness. It's getting out of control!


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