Stonington's school calendar in violation

Stonington - The original 2011-12 school calendar adopted by the Board of Education - which has been the root of the April vacation controversy - violated state law.

That's because the calender did not contain the 185 days that the state requires of school systems which set specific graduation dates, which in this case is June 8.

The calendar also allowed no flexibility to make up the three days that school was closed after Tropical Storm Irene. Those three days are needed in order to have seniors attend the required 180 days of class before graduation.

Last week the board voted to keep graduation on June 8 and to eliminate three days from the upcoming April vacation to make up for the missed days.

The decision has created a controversy, as many parents say their children will not be in the class on April 11, 12 and 13 because they have made travel plans. Some parents who do not have plans say they are worried about what will be taught on those three days if large numbers of students and teachers are absent.

If the April vacation days had not been eliminated, the graduation date would have had to have been changed, jeopardizing plans for the all-night graduation party. Another option would have been for seniors to attend class for three days after getting their diplomas, an option opposed by high school Principal Stephen Murphy.

"Since this was the first year that Stonington has tried to hold graduation day static there were nuances associated with this that I was unaware of and as a result the Board was also unaware of when the calendar was established," Superintendent Leanne Masterjoseph wrote this week in an email.

Meanwhile, it appears that teachers who fail to work April 11, 12 and 13 would be in violation of their contract with the town.

The contract states that a teacher can apply for no more than two personal days of leave for any reason as long as the request is made 48 hours in advance. Unlike bereavement, religious, maternity and other types of leave, which the contracts states are paid leaves, the contract does not state that teachers are paid for personal days.

It also states that no more than one person per school shall be granted a personal day at the same time, except when the school has more than 30 full-time teachers. Both West Board Street and West Vine Street schools have less than 30 teachers each, although they share a principal.

The contract does not say how many teachers can take the same personal days if there are more than 30 teachers.

The contract provisions raise the question of whether teachers and staff will be paid or disciplined if they go ahead with travel plans and miss class on those days.

In response to that question this week, Masterjoseph wrote in an email, "We have been carefully compiling detailed information concerning the numbers of staff who will need to be out during this time. I will provide the Board of Education with this data as soon as it is complete. Our primary focus is on planning for time with students on April 11-13, and not on penalty for those adversely impacted."

The school also would have to hire substitutes at a rate of $80 a day to fill in for missing teachers.

Masterjoseph said she would have verified projections of staff absences by the close of school today. The system employs about 260 teachers and other professional staff as well as 250 classified staff such as clerical workers, paraprofessionals and custodians.

As for students, Masterjoseph initially said that parents who had made plans with their families prior to March 1 should proceed with those plans. She did not discuss families who made plans after that date, which was set by the board to decide how to handle make up days, including any snow days.

She said this week that no proof of booking would be required and that school officials have the ability to excuse absences for various reasons.

"We will eliminate hardships caused by this situation in any way we possibly can for students. This will include a careful look at the presentation of new material, homework, assessments, etc., during these three days," she wrote in an e-mail.

She said she could not estimate how many of the system's 2,500 students would be absent.

She said the school system is planning a mailing to all families to include calendar information and reminders about reporting absences.

The board will now have to adjust its 2012-13 calendar, because it had set graduation for June 7, 2013, but only had included 179 days for seniors, less than the 180-day minimum requirement.

In an email to board members, Masterjoseph said that going forward there will be an internal committee with a member representative from the school board that will build the proposed calendars for the board to approve. She will then provide the board with monthly updates about its status as the school year progresses.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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