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Will Great Neck Schools Open Before Labor Day?

GNPS wrestle with state imposed early end of school and vacation issues

Having proposed a school calendar for the 2012-2013 school year at the Jan. 24 school board meeting, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Dolan and the Great Neck Public Schools Board of Education decided to hold off on a final decision. Schools generally open in the days following Labor Day. For next year, Dr. Dolan explained that, due to a very early state mandated Regents exam schedule, the schools must close on June 21 and one option would be to start school the week before Labor Day. It was also noted that many religious holidays, where school is traditionally closed, occur this year during the week, adding more school closings. This highly controversial issue took up much of the meeting, with parents offering several suggestions, including the elimination of other vacation days.

The calendar proposal calls for school to begin Wednesday, Aug. 29, with school open the next day, Thursday, Aug. 30, but closed on Friday, Aug. 31. Dr. Dolan stated that he tried to find the best solutions for all, and the best way to maintain the integrity of the school district’s educational programs. In order for the district to obtain state aid, a specific number of days must be school days (180). However the Great Neck Teachers Association contract calls for 182 days, with two extra staff conference days (considered days that schools are open, but students do not attend). As a result, the district must find two more schools days to add.

At that point, Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz added that the school district did not have control over much regarding this issue.

Dr. Dolan further noted that, should the quest for two more acceptable school days prove truly difficult, the school district could “seek legislative relief.” He said that New York State Senator Jack Martins is already aware of this issue and has pledged to help.

Dr. Dolan’s initial proposal has been to open early, before Labor Day. At the meeting he said that he hoped all could “benefit” from discussions at the meeting. And there were many other possible solutions discussed.

The packed audience of parents, teachers and administrators very calmly discussed a number of options.

Many parents asked that school not start prior to Labor Day, as at this point in time many parents have already planned on vacation days at the end of August and a good number might not be able to change those days off now. Some parents said that vacation days may often be required to be requested a year in advance. Coupled with planned vacation days, at this time many families have most likely already paid for trips and summer vacation homes and would stand to lose not only their vacations, but considerable amounts of money.

The issue was then raised that, due to vacation days and deposits (or more) already paid, the hard fact is that many students might not come to school at the end of August, but would enjoy their vacations and family time and come back to school after Labor Day. Quite a few parents stressed the fact that family vacations (which must be planned and paid for well in advance) are important, enriching times for all families and should not be discounted. Concerned that this could cause students to have to choose between family time and school, he again said that he wanted the decision to be “educationally sound.”

There was also discussion regarding the fact that planned and paid for vacations could also cause a shortage of teachers at the start of an early school year. And Dr. Dolan expressed concern that if Great Neck teachers have to start early their children might still be on vacation, possibly causing child care problems.

Suggestions also included cutting out parts of the traditional February vacation week. Since school opening is much sooner than the next February break (in 2013), many parents suggested it might be easier for families to continue with August vacation plans yet be able to nix the thought of a February vacation that is a year away.

Another suggestion was to cut the final days of the 2013 Spring Recess. A week is slated for Spring Recess (the week of March 25, 2013), which is Passover. The break extends to Monday and Tuesday, April 1 and 2, the last two days of Passover. Cutting the first two vacation days in April would give the district back the two needed school days yet allow for a full Spring Recess vacation week. While this appealed to many, some were concerned that families could be upset with children expected in school the last two days of Passover.

At the end of the very long, very fruitful and calm calendar discussion, Dr. Dolan and the school board agreed to hold off on a decision. In the end, Ms. Berkowitz noted that it will be Dr. Dolan who again goes over the possibilities and makes the decisions. A decision was promised at the next school board public action meeting on Monday, Feb. 6.

The cooperative tone of the meeting was reflected when many parents expressed appreciation for the work put into a decision and for the discussion opportunities. And many wished Dr. Dolan “good luck” in coming to a decision.