News of Shortened Vacation Sparks Range of Reactions

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Some teachers, students and parents reacted with dismay on Tuesday as word spread about the city’s decision to cut short public schools’ mid-winter break to make up days lost to Hurricane Sandy.

But the overriding sentiment was resignation and acknowledgement that the move to hold classes on three February vacation days was inevitable given the fact that the Department of Education is required to hold 180 days of instruction each year.

“Wise decision,” wrote Eric Ponce on Schoolbook’s Facebook page. “The days had to be made up no matter what. Did fellow teachers actually think we were going to get a freebie?”

The announcement of the schedule change on Monday prompted online grousing, mainly about disruptions to long-planned vacations and some teachers’ perceptions that they were not consulted.

“Every teacher in my building is fuming at the fact that rank and file teachers had NO SAY WHATSOEVER in this ‘agreement,’” one teacher identified only as Joe D. wrote on the Gotham Schools website.

“No need to use those days. Period,” Nathan Hale Hurwitz, whose children attend P.S. 333 Manhattan School for Children and Talented Unlimited High School, wrote in an email to Schoolbook.

A group of students from Validus Preparatory Academy in the Bronx learned of the schedule change on Tuesday. After initial surprise, they gave measured responses.

“Taking some time from a not-so-important vacation would be okay,” said Sean Woods, a senior at the academy. But he added that gaining days in February would not necessarily help make up for time lost in the fall semester, he said, especially when students needed to prepare for Regents exams in January and might have different classes during the spring semester.

His classmate Safiyyah Alli said she thinks it is good for students to make up the days. But, at the same time, she said, “families plan what they want to do with their kids that week and now they have to change that whole plan.”

Under the rescheduling agreement – reached by the D.O.E, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators and the United Federation of Teachers – classes will now be in session Wednesday, Feb. 20 through Friday, Feb. 22, the final three days of the regularly scheduled mid-winter break. The June 4 clerical half day will become a full day of class instruction.

The agreement includes provisions for teachers with travel plans already made for the February break. Specifically, any absences during the latter half of that week won’t be used against them in disciplinary hearings or end-of-year rating.

The act of drawing up the school calendar is a complicated process. The online D.O.E. school calendar runs two pages but attached at the bottom is a lengthy list of items that were taken into consideration when setting the schedule. They included professional development time for staff, shortened days needed for parent-teacher conferences and Election Day among other points.

James Dunseith, a teacher at Validus, said he wondered how losing those February vacation days would affect the work of teachers and students. The spring semester is traditionally a series of six-week sprints, with time off in between, he said. “I am worried what not having that week of February is going to do to burnout.”

Some of the online discussion on Thursday revolved around the question of where else the D.O.E. could have found time to use for the Sandy make-up days. No real consensus emerged except that most people were clear they did not want the days added to the end of the year.

Cutting into the winter break was “better than extending school into the hot summer days,” Schoolbook reader Irene Borisov wrote on Facebook.

Sharon Bauer, whose son is in kindergarten at P.S. 99 in Kew Gardens, Queens, said she, too, preferred losing the time from the mid-winter break rather than the summer and suggested that the D.O.E. make it policy to always make up lost school days from the February vacation.

"Then parents and teachers do not make vacation plans for that period," Bauer said.

Bauer's suggestion might not helpful to those families already holding plane tickets and hotel reservations for trips during the February break, such as Tricia Joyce, who has paid for a non-refundable vacation for herself, her husband and two 9-year-old daughters. She did not give the destination.

"We will probably go through with our trip as we have paid for it and imagine other families will as well, leaving our schools half attended on those days. I don’t think this is advantageous," Joyce said.

Her idea for making up the storm days? "I would honestly be open to a longer day as well," she said. "Many children I know of, including myself in my school years, were in school until 3:30 pm, which would allow for an extra period. All things to think about."

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