There will be no February break for students and teachers of the West Hempstead School District this year.
To make up some of the instructional days that were lost due to Superstorm Sandy and this month's nor'easter, the West Hempstead Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to convert the five scheduled vacation days for February 2013 to school days.
Students will now be expected to report to school on Feb. 18 to Feb. 22, or else they will be credited with "illegal absences."
At the school board's Nov. 20 business meeting, West Hempstead Superintendent John Hogan explained that all schools districts in New York are required to have a minimum of 180 instructional days on their calendars each year. Two of these days can be superintendent's conference days, when only faculty need to report.
The New York State Education Commissioner could waive five days from the 180-day requirement, and the state legislature could waive an additional five more, as it did last year for some districts upstate that suffered severe flooding from Hurricane Irene.
However, at a meeting Hogan attended Sunday morning with the commissioner, he was told that in order for districts to be eligible for the waivers, should they be granted, they must first demonstrate a good faith effort to restore instructional days from what would be considered discretionary vacation time.
"We're not in winter yet, which is something that the commissioner understands," Hogan said. "He understands that in New York, and on Long Island especially, it's not a far stretch that we may have to take an additional two days depending on the winter we face." (In 2011-12, West Hempstead took no snow days, but in 2010-11, it used three.)
West Hempstead went into the 2012-2013 school year with 182 scheduled instructional days, including two superintendent's conference days, but lost seven in late October and early November as a result of the two major storms, bringing that number down to 175.
To restore the number of instructional days to the required 180, Hogan recommended the board take four out of five days from the February break, keeping schools closed on Presidents' Day, Feb. 18, and the day after Easter, April 1. He explained that certain days, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Memorial Day for example, are not allowed to be converted to instructional days.
Although President's Day is a federal holiday, districts could schedule classes that day. The days between Christmas and New Year's, as well as the Easter/Passover vacation days could be turned into school days also, but Hogan said he would not advise the board to do this unless it had no other option.
"These days are not only traditional but deemed by many people to be significantly religious," Hogan said. "I told the commissioner, 'You'd have to direct me to take those days before I would take them.'"
Upon a suggestion from Trustee Vincent Trocchia, the board decided to amend Hogan's recommendation to make Presidents' Day (Feb. 18) a school day while leaving the April 1 vacation day intact. Trocchia's reasoning was that this would preserve the full spring break. It would also give the board the option -- should the district have to use a snow day this winter -- to then take April 1 if it needs to in order to maintain 180 instructional days, assuming the waivers are not granted.
Nassau BOCES, which provides services to West Hempstead schools, will decide whether it will be open on these days in February, depending on what the majority of districts in the area decide to do.
"You are not going to get in any new instruction on these days ... If people have vacation plans, they are going," Barbara Keilty-Michaleski, a West Hempstead resident and retired teacher told the board, harking back to her experiences in the schools.
"Then, that's a crime," Trocchia responded. "Parents need to realize a disaster occurred and certain things have to be met. This is not an ordinary time ... We never, never missed this much time."
If the district has to take more than one snow day this winter and the waivers are not approved, then the board will need to look beyond April 1 and take back additional vacation days in 2013.
What do you think of the board's decision to cancel the February break?