The Rockville Centre Board of Education voted on Nov. 20 to convert four days of the district’s February vacation into school days to make up for the days missed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent nor’easter.
In order to meet New York State Department of Education attendance requirements — and to provide a single-day buffer in case of snow-related closures in the coming months — the board decided to remove the scheduled vacation days from Tuesday, Feb. 19, through Friday, Feb. 22.
According to Superintendent Dr. William Johnson, before a total of seven school days were lost to the two storms, the 2012-13 district calendar was composed of 180 school days and four superintendent conference days. The state requires a minimum of 176 days in session and four conference days, Johnson explained. The loss of seven school days left only 173, and the board needed to add at least three days.
“Three makes us whole in terms of the state, but it doesn’t get us to the point of enabling us to just call a day off later on and not have to find it someplace else,” Johnson said. “Then there’s the whole issue of instruction. We lost seven instructional days. So that makes it somewhat problematic.”
He suggested that because of the February vacation’s proximity to the break in December, and the religious holidays during a weeklong break in March, the board focused on February as a time to reclaim instructional days. He added that taking the days from the February break would give the district some leeway in case of school closures from snowstorms between the end of February and the end of March.
All five trustees agreed that February was the best month in which to convert vacation days into school days, but they were split on how many days to take. Trustees John O’Shea and Gregg Spaulding argued that, for the sake of faculty, staff and students who had long-planned vacations in February, only three days should be taken from the end of the break. They also suggested adding half-day instruction to Regents Week, purely for instructional purposes, since the state does not accept half days as restoration of school days.
At the school board meeting on Nov. 20, Mindy Edelman, a math teacher at South Side Middle School, asked about those teachers who could not cancel their plans without incurring large fees. “Losing the seven teaching days is a tremendous amount, considering all the demands the state puts on us … and I think the February break, pedagogically speaking, makes the most sense,” Edelman said. “But speaking on behalf of the faculty … there was a great concern that they already made their plans a year in advance. I was wondering if there would be any way not to penalize those who have already paid their airfare.”
The board responded that it was looking into options like that, but was not yet able to offer any answers. A village resident also made the point that if teachers don’t show up, the motivation for students to show up is reduced.
Other ideas suggested to the board included opening on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and adding days to the end of the school year. Johnson explained that it was not legal to do either. He added that either opening schools on scheduled vacation days or failing to meet the state’s required number of school days would come at a cost. According to Johnson, the school would be fined $28,000 a day below the minimum.
The final vote by the board ended in a 3-2 split, with board President Liz Dion, Vice President Mark Masin and Trustee Mayda Kramer voting to restore the four days in February. Dion said that a buffer day was necessary because of the possibility of snowstorms, while Masin and Kramer said that their decision was based on the students.
“I feel that we need, as a body here, to do what is best for the educational well being of our students,” Masin said. “With all due respect, we’re in the business of providing education, not vacations.”