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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."

The Oak Street Elementary School must make up an additional day since a water main break closed that building soon after this school year began.

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.

C. McWilliams November 13, 2012 at 12:27 PM
I would love to see the students in school for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They could have a shortened academic day and spend the balance of the day on a community service project to help an area hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. Books could be collected and boxed for ruined libraries, school supplies could be collected and placed in back packs, donations for already stressed food banks could be made and coordinated. Instead of the day being spent sleeping in and shopping sales at the mall, it would be a day for the students to follow in the steps of a great man. Like Martin Luther King, Jr. the students of Basking Ridge would have a dream and work toward making a difference. I am sure there are many parent volunteers who would help coordinate these efforts so as not to make more work for our dedicated teachers.
Miles November 13, 2012 at 12:52 PM
I think "in school" means "in school" not out doing service projects. It's supposed to be a day of instruction. Although doing service projects like this is a great idea for all kids, they should be done by the parents and not forced by the school. Personally, I'm tired of parents expecting the schools to do their job......
Elizabeth November 13, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Hooray to everyone for trying to be flexible about spreading the days out and considering an alternative to simply eliminating spring break. Some of the 'buzz' up until this point made it sound like it was written in stone to lose spring break, so I am relieved to hear that alternatives are being considered.
HBSR November 13, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Let's pray and hope we have a good warm winter, we have had to deal with a lot pre-winter issues coz of the Hurricane. Keep our fingers crossed and hope for no more snow holidays.
Beth November 13, 2012 at 01:34 PM
I am so relieved to hear about making up days lost during both weeks or vacation. Knowing that my kids were going to miss a full week in April due to an already paid for vacation only added to everyone's stress levels.
Endjin November 13, 2012 at 01:40 PM
I am with you Miles. Our kids are in school to get education. Schools are not to be confused with labour camps... There are enough unemployed citizens that can do that work... If my kids will be behind with their education then they will come out from school dumb as .... and end up unemployed???? Nah, there is so much to be learned still... Trust me!
oldmanjersey November 13, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Totally agree with you. Sad to see that the concern is about vacation and volunteering and not the quality or quantity of education.
JaK November 13, 2012 at 02:30 PM
How about having the Feb & April break weeks as long weekends by allowing Monday & Tuesday as the break days? Taking three days from each break makes sense and eliminating MLK day. A half day Saturday class does not. Nor is Eliminating a high holy religious holiday such as Good Friday that will impact a very large number of students. this article referenced a family having paid for April break vacation, while I can understand (and have had to cancel paid vacations in the past my self=trip cancellation insurance is always purchased ) the cost and inconvenience to the family, the greater good and least impact to the community need to be considered.
Concerned November 13, 2012 at 02:41 PM
The focus should be on how best to get the kids education back on track after 2 weeks off from school and not on whether vacations will be missed. Is it better to have 2 school weeks truncated which usually means review (both times) when they get back or having a full week of uninterrupted classes... yes, it will be a loss for those of us who booked vacations but think of those who lost their homes due to the impact of Sandy. FYI - we all knew spring break would be the first to be cut back if we used up the 3 day buffer the school sets aside for 'snow days'. If you really want your vacation, pull them out of school...yes, and then have to play catch up with school work.
Anonymous November 13, 2012 at 03:01 PM
As the parent of two students with no vacation plans, I think the learning experience is best served by keeping truncated February and April breaks. The prospect of skipping April entirely does not serve the community because it leads to burned out students and staff by the end of June.
issues November 13, 2012 at 03:12 PM
I think eliminating Martin Luther King days sends a very bad message. It is a national holiday in this country to celebrate the civil rights leader. The calendar indicates days above 3 are taken from spring break which is what should be followed. If the board wants to split the days over two vacations, that's okay with me too but not eliminated a hard-fought national holiday. There really is no reason to consider eliminating MLK day.
marzella November 13, 2012 at 04:29 PM
I never thought the schools should be closed for Martin Luther King in the first place. Keeping the kids in school to learn about the man is a better way to honor his memory. I doubt they are thinking about him at all the day they have off.
Jane November 13, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Please just make the decision and communicate it as quickly as possible. I'm sure no one wants to hear extended first world fapping about squandered trips to Punta Cana and Breckenridge!
Anonymous November 14, 2012 at 12:47 PM
I really like your comment on " the focus should be on......" I understand the problems the parents are facing regarding already having planned their vacation, as I am one of them. However, we already knew the rules and were mentally prepared to either cancel our trip or take our kids out of school in case of excess snow days. Therefore, we really need to see what works best for our kids education and not lobby for a longer day and Saturdays as that will be too much for them and the teachers.
anonymous November 14, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Although I'm glad to see the school board take an interest in what the community thinks, this is not the time to revisit the disaster plan. The plan says take the days from spring break and that's what should be done. The real question is what to do when we have the winter that has been forecast. Should we proactively take MLK day, good Friday, and the Friday before Memorial Day? The current focus should be on what to do if we have more snow days. Trust the disaster plan during the disaster. Reassess it once it's behind us.
Ting November 18, 2012 at 11:14 PM
Splitting is really not good for vacation plans. Suggesting take away April break or first week of summer
JaK November 19, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Personal vacation plans should not be a part of this decision.
Jim February 12, 2013 at 01:41 PM
We have a board that makes the call on what should be done. Make the call. I cannot believe a survey would go out to High school students. They want to get out early and also have as many days off as they can. Did you expect them to say anything different. Leave everything the way it was. We had a hurricane. Something not expected would happen in this area. Make the days up the best you can. Has anyone thought about our teachers ideas on what to do. Has anyone thought about their plans to. The most important people of all and they are left out of this. As for adding new Holidays. If you feel that this day is important to you and your family do not have them go to school that day. But do not make a day for everyone to take off. It's just a wasted day for everyone else along with putting a burden on the parents that work for living. It seems the system has worked all these years and now we need change ????

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