On the heals of a kerfuffle in Cranston over holding school on Good Friday and Providence’s decision to cut short the traditional weeklong February break to a long weekend, the EG School Committee will hear the ad hoc calendar committee’s report at its meeting Tuesday night. Among its recommendations will be that same shorter February break that’s been adopted by Providence and several other school districts recently. Find their full report here.
In addition, the School Committee will hear from the ad hoc School Start Time Committee. Their report, which offers several options but no firm recommendation, can be found here.
The School Committee decided to take up the calendar discussion after several instances in recent years where bad weather prompted schools to close for several days during the year, pushing the last day of school later and later into June. This year is no exception – the district logged four snow days, so the last day of the year is now June 22. And, too, there’s been perennial complaining from some about the before-Labor-Day start date that’s been the practice for more than 10 years now.
Another thing extending the school year was the state’s decision several years ago to require that schools close on primary and election days, which happen every two years. Those, together with Columbus Day, Veterans Day and the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (depending on the calendar year), can mean children don’t attend school for five days in a row more than once or twice until December.
Another consideration is the lack of air conditioning in EG schools. The longer the school year stretches on either side into summer or summer-like weather, the more likely there will be school on days when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees. While some argue that children have long survived without air conditioning, others say hot classrooms provide a less-than-optimal and occasionally dangerous learning environment. Last June, one student was taken to the hospital by rescue and two others were picked up by their parents after becoming faint from the heat on the third floor at Cole Middle School.
One issue raised during a school calendar forum at East Greenwich High School Feb. 25 was the state Department of Education’s rules on delays. RIDE says students must be in school for at least four hours for the day to count toward the 180-day school year. If Supt. Victor Mercurio wants to delay the start of school after a snowfall overnight, he can only delay school for one hour, otherwise the day won’t count.
“It’s really absurd and I would hope the new education commissioner would revisit that,” said School Committee Chair Carolyn Mark at the February forum.
Mark liked the idea of a flexible approach to the school calendar, making changes depending on how holidays fall on a given year. For instance, this year Labor Day falls on Sept. 7, as late as it can. Starting school before Labor Day would make the first day Sept. 3, hardly “early.”
And, too, there will be no election days next year. But both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do fall on weekdays.
In a survey of parents, school staff and students on the school calendar taken last fall (results in the report here), 44 percent of respondents said they would be in favor of having school on religious holidays, with 42 percent saying they would not.
When asked if there were only one weeklong vacation other than the December holiday break, 58 percent said they would want that week vacation to fall in March, 29 percent said April, and 9 percent said February. And when asked when they would like school to start, 55 percent said after Labor Day, compared to 29 percent saying before Labor Day and 16 percent saying they had no preference.
One problem with a March break, said Mark, is it would interfere with PARCC testing, the new standardized tests being taken in Rhode Island. Districts like Providence have kept the April weeklong break but cut the February break to a four-day weekend, adding one vacation day to the Presidents Day weekend and that’s what the EG ad hoc calendar committee is going to recommend at the April 7 School Committee meeting.
The meeting takes place in the library at Cole Middle School at 7 p.m.
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