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Board adds 'no-school' makeup days to academic year's end

Updated 8:20 pm, Thursday, November 29, 2012
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Already extended to June 21 because of class cancellations forced by Hurricane Sandy, the academic year for Fairfield's public schools will be even longer if more bad weather shuts down the schools.

The Board of Education on Tuesday approved a motion by a 6-3 vote extending the school year by a maximum of five days to Friday, June 28, to make up for additional "no-school" days, formerly known as snow days, if needed. Any days needed beyond that would have to be made up with April vacation days because state law requires that the school year end within the fiscal year, which ends Sunday, June 30.

Pamela Iacono, the board's vice chairwoman as of Tuesday night, made the motion while she still held the board chairmanship as a way to preserve April vacation. The February break, traditionally set aside in earlier academic years, already was eliminated from the calendar when it was adopted last year, she said.

"It's healthy to get a break," she said. "My other concern is that I really think people are going to go away for April break, and I think we're going to have excessive absenteeism because it is the only break that we have."

Board member Sue Brand supported the motion, saying April vacation is often used by juniors and seniors to visit colleges they are considering.

Before the vote, Superintendent of Schools David Title in a memo explained the option the board approved and also offered moving professional development day from Feb. 15 to after the end of the students' academic year, but before June 30. He said this would shorten the number of days available after June 21 from five to four, however.

He also said that President's Day on Feb. 15, Good Friday on March 25 and Memorial Day on May 25, could be used as school days because the board may hold classes on any legal holiday not falling in December or January.

None of the options would delay high school graduation to the last week of June because the board can set the date after the 185th scheduled day of school, he said. By law, the board can set the date after April 1.

Referring to letters from state education officials after a severe winter two years ago and Tropical Storm Irene, Title said they could waive a required 180-school-day minimum, but circumstances for such an exception "appear to be extremely limited."

Furthermore, the Fairfield board has budgeted and planned for a 182-day student school year, he said.

Board member Jessica Gerber suggested holding school on Good Friday or the Feb. 15 professional day, while Dwyer entertained shortening the school year to the state-required 180 days to make up for any "no-school" days.

Title said he was reluctant to use the professional development day because of its importance to improving the district and it takes away an available school day at the end of June. Furthermore, he said, using the holidays as makeup days may result in high absenteeism.

"Those are all, in my view, suboptimal, but not a hill for me to die on on any of this," he said.

Board members Perry Liu and John Convertito said they want the calendar to stay the way it is. Convertito also suggested shortening the year to 180 days, if necessary.

Board member Jennifer Kennelly, who voted against the motion with Liu and Convertito, suggested tacking on one makeup day to the end of June and then taking additional makeup days from April vacation, if needed.

Suzanne Miska, of Ryegate Road, said the board should not extend the school year beyond June 21, but instead ask the state for permission to waive the 180-day requirement, as allowed for "unavoidable emergency."

mjuliano@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 112; twitter.com/mjulianoadv