School districts' calendars spinning in Irene's wake

Half-day sessions of school the days before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve?

Eliminating the February break?

For the second consecutive academic year, several school boards around the region will have to make substantial changes to the school calendar due to cancellations. The changes will be needed to meet the state requirement that all districts have a minimum of 180 school days per year.

During the last year, the rash of snowstorms in December and January caused the disruptions.

This year, blame Irene. Some districts missed as many as five days of school because of the tropical storm, and the snow season still hasn't started.

Normally, there's an easy fix: just tag the canceled days onto the end of school year.

This month, many school boards will be meeting to discuss their calendars.

The East Lyme Board of Education said Tuesday it plans to vote at its Sept. 26 meeting to alter its schedule of class days.

Some school board members there have suggested the half-day sessions before the Thanksgiving and Christmas break to make up class time.

East Lyme Superintendent James Lombardo said the administration has received more than 80 emails from parents and staff with suggestions about how to make up the lost days.

"There is a desire to eliminate the February break," Lombardo said.

Unlike most school districts in the region, East Lyme has a full week off in February after the Presidents Day holiday.

Julie Horner, an East Lyme teacher, urged the board not to cut the April vacation, when families often make out-of-town travel plans.

"I think we would see a high rate of absenteeism," Horner said.

Region 18, which includes Lyme and Old Lyme, and Old Saybrook each missed three days, which will be added to the end of their respective school years.

In Ledyard, where schools were closed for three days, the Board of Education on Thursday will vote on Superintendent Michael Graner's plan to have classes on Thanksgiving Eve and on Friday, Dec. 23, the day before the winter break.

Graner's plan would also reduce the February break from two days to one.

He said it's essential that boards make decisions about calendars soon, so that families can solidify their travel plans. The district also contacted parents through phone calls and emails to solicit opinions on how to squeeze in school days.

"The most important part of this is getting to word out to parents," Graner said. "Ledyard has a lot of military who often have to travel to see family."

Some decisions made

North Stonington has already made its decision.

On Wednesday, the district's Board of Education voted unanimously to eliminate the Columbus and Veterans Day holidays (Oct. 10 and Nov. 11), as well as a scheduled vacation day on Feb. 21. That covers three of the four days missed because of Irene, Superintendent of Schools Natalie Pukas said.

She said a state statute restricts schools from eliminating holidays in December or January, somewhat limiting districts' choices. But by eliminating the selected days off, the last day of school will be June 13. Any snow days would be added onto the calendar, she said.

"If we have a winter similar to last year's, we may have problems in finding enough days available while complying with the laws regarding mandatory school days," Pukas said.

Griswold missed two days and plans to tack them onto the end of the academic year. Both Groton and Stonington missed three days of school, but neither district has made any schedule adjustments yet.

New London did not miss any school days, unlike the neighboring Waterford, which missed four days.

Waterford Superintendent Jerome Belair said he will recommend that the school board tack four days onto the end of the school year, making the last day of school June 15.

Belair said he plans to discuss additional changes to the calendar at the next school board meeting.

"I'm going to definitely raise the question about modifying as we go along," Belair said.

In Montville, where students missed five days of school, Superintendent Pamela Aubin said Wednesday that she will recommend to the school board that the district extend the academic year by five days.

"We were originally going to end on June 11, so five days would take us to June 18," Aubin said. "Even if we got five snow days, we would still have a week to play with."

Montville is one of the 15 districts in the region that sought to cut costs by synchronizing and combining professional development days for teachers and staff.

Aubin said she doesn't think there is much of a desire in the region to change the staff development days.

Salem missed four days, and the school board there plans to discuss the calendar at its October meeting.

Norwich schools missed three days and plan to make up one day on Jan. 31, which was originally scheduled to be a staff-only workday. Norwich is also reducing the February break by one day and extending the school year by one day.

Norwich Free Academy missed two days, but has not yet made any adjustments to the school calendar.

Preston Superintendent John Welch said he plans to take a wait-and-see approach on whether to change the school calendar to work in the three days missed at the start of the school year. Welch said he initially considered moving two staff developments in October and November to the end of the year and eliminating the Feb. 21 vacation day. But, he said, with the last day of school now scheduled for June 14, if the school system has a "normal" winter with a few snow days added to the three August cancellations, school would end sometime during the week ending June 22.

Still, this is New England, and Old Man Winter can have a cruel sense of humor.

"We've been doing 'no snow day' dances," Horner, the East Lyme teacher, said.

s.chupaska@theday.com

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