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Change in school vacation angers Stonington parents

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published March 14. 2012 4:00AM

Stonington - When the Board of Education decided to keep graduation on June 8 and eliminate three days from the upcoming April 9-13 vacation, a large group of high school seniors and their parents cheered. But they might be the only ones happy with last Thursday's unanimous vote.

Over the past few days, parents of younger students have criticized the decision in emails to board members and through online postings.

Details are lacking about what will happen to students and staff who miss class on April 11, 12 and 13, when school is now in session, or what will be taught to those who do attend school on those days.

"To me, this says there will be no learning for those children whose families could not afford to go away. They will watch videos in the cafeteria and be baby sat by subs," wrote parent Candace Anderson on a blog posted by Superintendent of Schools Leanne Masterjoseph.

Anderson added that some teachers have told students they have no intention of showing up for school on those days. Anderson said her children also will not be there.

"They can learn more at home than they would by being herded together and given mindless tasks to do," she wrote.

Masterjoseph, who could not be reached by phone or e-mail Monday or Tuesday, issued this statement Tuesday:

"We are working diligently with families and staff to accommodate a host of issues associated with the abbreviation of April vacation. This work includes understanding that many families and staff members have made arrangements for the period of April 11, 12 and 13, 2012, that are not easily changed. I am also in discussions with leadership from the Stonington Education Association at this time."

Masterjoseph referred parents to her blog at lmasterjoseph.wordpress.com, in which she said learning will remain a priority and the schools will consider whether to present any new material during the three days.

The official school calendar states the school board may choose to eliminate April vacation if the system has to make up more than five days prior to March 1, when snow days are no longer much of a threat.

Masterjoseph said families with travel plans established after the "March 1 threat to vacation" had passed and cannot be changed should proceed with them and send in absence notes. It is unclear what happens to families who booked travel before March 1 and how the system will verify the booking dates for travel. She said she is also working with staff to address travel plans booked after March 1.

The school system needs to make up three days missed as a result of Tropical Storm Irene.

Gretchen Noonan, president of the teachers' union, declined comment, saying the Stonington Education Association is in conversation with the school administration about the issue.

The school board decided against making up the three days by moving the graduation ceremony to June 15. Seniors and their parents said the change could endanger the post-graduation party, the $3,000 deposit on the location for the party and the ability of relatives to attend graduation.

"Why does the entire school district lose three days of vacation over a senior party deposit?" wrote parent Tom Lennon in response to the school board's blog.

The board also rejected a plan that would have had seniors attend school for three days after they received their diplomas. High school Principal Stephen Murphy said that plan would create havoc with graduation practice, exams and regular classroom instruction for other students.

School board Chairwoman Gail MacDonald said the board was guided by its desire to set a graduation date and stick with it instead of having a "moving target" as in past years. She acknowledged the decision has "touched off a lot of issues that we did not anticipate." She said the board will re-examine its 2012-13 school calendar to prevent a repeat.

MacDonald said that last fall, when Masterjoseph suggested eliminating the Columbus Day and Veterans Day holidays and a staff training day to make up the days, some parents opposed that plan, so the board decided to put off a decision until after the winter. The board did agree in the fall that it would not change the date of graduation, and that if it needed to make up days it would decrease the length of the April vacation.

MacDonald called the issue a "no win" for the board. "There would be people upset regardless of what we did," she said.

Board members could choose to reconsider the issue, MacDonald said, but she added that she did not think that would make for good process.

The next regularly scheduled school board meeting is April 5.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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