School cancellations affect 2012-13 academic calendar

Madeline Fagen, Staff Writer

The so-called “October break” that came as a result of Hurricane Sandy will have a significant impact on the 2012-13 school calendar. Students and staff members are worried, what will come of those missed school days? Administrators are only now beginning to provide some answers.

On Nov. 21, Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Mooney sent out an email to all district staff informing them of her proposal to take three make up days during the February break.  On Nov. 23, she informed parents with both letters and emails. The Board of Education will likely finalize this change at their meeting on Nov. 27.

On Nov. 18, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the New York City Department of Education would  also cancel three vacation days during February break, and other local districts have followed suit.

“I already have plans and I’m going on vacation,” said senior Sohini Upadhyay.

“I’m kind of mad because it ruins my plan of sitting on my bed and doing nothing,” said senior Emily Lipstein. “After the stress of college applications it’s nice to have a break finally.”

The original calendar had 184 days, with four days built in in cause of weather-related emergencies.  The district cancelled six days in total, thus needing to make up two more days.

“I think this plan is great.  As an AP teacher, it’s already tight as it is and these few days will provide great leeway,” said AP Biology teacher Ms. Marla Ezratty.

The New York State Education Department states that school districts must be in session for all students for no less than 180 days.  Many students and staff members are concerned that the required amount of school days will not be met because of the six days off.  However, according to a Newsday article, the State Education Department is considering the prospect of waiving the 180  day rule in these extenuating circumstances of Hurricane Sandy.

“It is not definite that SED will waive the 180 day attendance requirement,” said Dr. Mooney.  “While it is under consideration, I believe that it is fair to say that it does not appear that such a waiver decision would be favorable towards school districts at this time.”

The SED regulations on attendance allow Election Day to be an instructional day for students.  However, this is not an option for federal holidays, such as Veterans Day. Superintendent’s Conference Days and Elementary Parent-Teacher Conference days are already included in the 184 day schedule, so turning them into instructional time does not count toward make-up days.  Students attended school on Election Day solely for the sake of additional learning time.

The original decision to close school was based on many factors. According to Dr. Mooney, school was closed on Nov. 8 because reports of the storm seemed very severe.  The district continued to be closed for the rest of the week because state law mandates that school buildings must have power and be able to maintain a temperature of at least 65 degrees in order to open. Additionally, the roads were dangerous with fallen trees and wires, and buses could not run.

“Although extra school would not be the most favorable situation, think that we will have school given back on days before finals where we usually wouldn’t have school because of the many days missed,” said freshman Steven Sandoval.

Many other staff members agree that using Election Day as an instructional day was a good decision.

Schools were reopened on Mon, Nov. 5 because all seven buildings in the district had power, roads were safer for bus travel, and food services would be able to provide hot meals for students and staff.

“I was glad to have school on Monday,” said freshman Tracy Naschek.  “It was important to continue the regular schedule because we had so many days off.”

That first week back since the storm experienced a 90-95% attendance rate for both students and staff, despite the power outages and lack of heat that many were facing at the time.

“Since a lot of teachers don’t live around here, I expected many of them to be absent due to the gas situation,” said junior Alex Larizadeh.

“Missing five days is a very unusual occurrence so being able to gain one day back was a good opportunity,” said Principal Mr. Ira Pernick.

Many students agree that it has been hard to miss this amount of school and to try and come back into the old routine.

“It has been very hard getting back into the usual routine, but I am glad that some normalcy has returned with school being opened again,” said freshman Milan Sani.

The school district has been trying to make missing school days less of a burden for students.

“I think the best thing we can do to help our students is to try to have a normal school life,” said Mr. Pernick.