The Board of Education late Tuesday approved a student calendar for the 2014-15 school year that conflicts with the Jewish observance of Passover.
The proposed calendar had called for spring vacation to be from April 13 through April 17 in 2015, but an amendment approved on a 5-4 vote moved the vacation to March 30 through April 6.
Marc Patten, one of the school board members who voted in opposition to the change, said Passover would fall "smack dab in the middle" of spring vacation if it were moved to the dates suggested by board member Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly. Patten said the change would conflict with Passover's observance, which prompted him to vote against it.
Passover in 2015 runs from the evening of April 3 to the evening of April 11, and includes restrictions on activities and diet that aren't compatible with the way many families like to spend vacations.
The revised spring 2015 vacation actually provides for six days off from classes, instead of the original five, because the Christian holiday of Good Friday -- schools traditionally are not in session that day -- falls on April 3, so the vacation was extended to include the following Monday, April 6.
Maxon-Kennelly's motion also called for moving a conference day for elementary school teachers, which includes an early dismissal for elementary school students, from April 1 to April 8.
Maxon-Kennelly said she proposed the change in the spring 2015 vacation because she has heard from parents looking to have the school district's spring vacation earlier, and that moving it ahead by two weeks would better accommodate student athletes and visits to colleges by upperclassmen. She said it also would provide a longer window for students to prepare for Advanced Placement exams. "To me, a calendar is a reflection of a community's concerns," she said.
In addition to Maxon-Kennelly, board members who approved the revised calendar were Jessica Gerber, the board's secretary; John Llewellyn, Eileen Liu-McCormack and Donna Karnal. Voting in opposition were Philip Dwyer, the board's chairman; Patten, Paul Fattibene, the board's vice chairman, and John Convertito.
Maxon-Kennelly's motion was preceded by Liu-McCormack's proposal to rearrange professional development days and extend the last day of classes to provide a break for students in February, and Karnal's attempt to start school after Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 1 in 2014. But Liu-McCormack's and Karnal's motions failed to gain support from a majority of board members.
The first full day of school in 2014 remains Aug. 28, with orientation on Aug. 27 for sixth-and ninth-grade students, who are new to middle school or high school. The last day of classes remains June 11.
Before Maxon-Kennelly made her motion, Superintendent of Schools David G. Title said he recommended that board members approve the calendar without amendments. Dwyer said it aligns with the Cooperative Educational Services' calendar. Title said about 100 Fairfield students spend half their day in programs at the regional CES, and, if vacation dates are changed on the Fairfield district's calendar, those students wouldn't get a vacation.
Fattibene said a regional calendar is expected to be issued next year, which Dwyer said CES would likely take a leadership role in developing, and that it would be better not to confuse parents by deviating from the CES calendar in 2014-15.
Title wasn't enthusiastic about starting classes after Labor Day because of the possibility that the school year would end in late June if classes have to be cancelled often because of winter snow. He said that could interfere with summer camps and other family plans. He said the school district received "a lot of push back" last year when the date of graduation was in late June because of the high number of weather-related canceled school days that had to be made up.
Karnal's motion to have the next school year run from Sept. 3 to June 16 failed on a vote of 3-6. The three board members who voted in favor were Karnal, Llewellyn and Liu-McCormack.
Two members of the public spoke on the proposed calendar, but neither objected to moving the spring vacation. Nancy Haberly of Duck Farm Road provided the board with dates of state standardized tests in the 2014-15 school year, as she understood them from a PTA meeting, and Christina Marson of North Cedar Road wanted a change in the date prior to classes that teachers report to school.
Before school board members discussed the proposed calendar Tuesday, Title said the only change from the version presented to board members last month was moving a professional development day for elementary school teachers (which also is an early dismissal for elementary school students) from Feb. 3, 2015 to Feb. 12, 2015. He said that was done to lengthen by "a little bit" a short break in February. Schools are not in session Feb. 13, 2015, a Friday and a professional development day for all teachers, or Feb. 16, 2015, a Monday and the Presidents Day holiday.