Sandy taxes local school districts, too

Buy Photo Tim Cook/The Day A chair half buried in the sand by Superstorm Sandy sits behind destroyed cottages Friday along West End Drive in the Hawks Nest Beach section of Old Lyme.

Adjustments to the school calendar are becoming something of a yearly chore.

School leaders, for the second consecutive year, are preparing for the possibility of an extended school year - this time before even a single snowflake has fallen in the region.

Schools districts in places like Groton, Stonington, Waterford, New London and Ledyard lost the entire school week because of power loss and damage associated with Superstorm Sandy.

"We're still dealing with electricity being out," Stonington Superintendent Van W. Riley said Friday. "Making up five days is a lot, and we still have winter coming."

Stonington, Ledyard, Old Saybrook and Lyme-Old Lyme school districts are among those that have decided to make up one of the days on Tuesday, Election Day. A professional staff development day was canceled in favor of a full day of classes in those districts.

Ledyard Superintendent Michael Graner said he will recommend to the school board next week that the district go a step further and hold classes on Veterans Day, observed on Nov. 12, and call for a half day of classes on Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving.

"Losing five days before the snow falls is a huge problem," Graner said. "We had a little bit of wiggle room, but we've already lost all five days. In New England we anticipate snow, but we have not traditionally thought about these big hurricane events that wreak havoc on the area. It's sort of an unprecedented thing we're going through."

Tuesday's classes in Ledyard will be held even as voters are expected to visit the polls at the Juliet W. Long and Ledyard Center schools. There will be extra staff and police presence at both schools for the duration of the school day, Graner said.

Waterford Superintendent Jerome Belair said Friday he did not have many options for making up lost school days outside of taking a look at the April break.

"But I wouldn't consider that until we really get into the winter season," Belair said. "Right now I'm hoping for an extremely mild winter. I'm crossing my fingers and my toes."

State Board of Education spokesman Jim Polites said that by law schools must provide at least 180 days of classes and cannot extend the school year beyond June 30, a Sunday, which means the last possible day of the school year must be Friday, June 28.

Lyme-Old Lyme Superintendent Ian Neviaser said the last day of school was scheduled for June 13, which leaves two weeks of leeway to make up the days. "Our first priority right now is to get everybody back," he said. "We'll be worrying about the calendar soon enough."

Old Saybrook schools were better off in terms of days lost this week, having closed Monday through Wednesday. Superintendent Heston Sutman said most of that time will be made up with classes on Monday and Tuesday, days previously scheduled for professional development. In addition, students had a full day of classes on Friday, which was supposed to be a half day.

"It's only because our town did an amazing job cleaning up around town," Sutman said.

The picture is not as rosy in New London, where damage from the storm was significant. Classes were supposed to have resumed Thursday but were canceled again due to an unexpected power outage.

New London Superintendent Nicholas Fischer said it's likely the lost days will add to the length of the school year. He added that taking away vacation days is an option, but not one he anticipates using.

"A lot of people have plans to be away," Fischer said. "We usually alert people at the beginning of the year not to make plans you can't change, but that doesn't always happen."

Polites said last year's Tropical Storm Irene and October snowstorm were followed by a mild winter, which in some ways balanced out the days lost. "It would be premature at this point in the school year to start talking about the 180-day requirement, with so many school days left in the year and winter left to come," he said.

g.smith@theday.com

Day staff writer Julianne Hanckel contributed to this report.

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