School board votes to cut February vacation week
Updated 4:26 pm, Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Fairfield parents won't have to plan a February vacation a year from now. That's because the Board of Education, in approving the 2012-13 school calendar, eliminated the week-long winter break.
"I believe it makes more educational sense," said board member John Convertito, who made the motion to cut the vacation. "I think it's more appropriate to shorten the break in February and use the excess time to the end of the school year."
The school board approved the change by a 5-3-1 vote.
The board, however, rejected another proposed change to the academic calendar that called for classes to be convened on the Veterans Day holiday.
Convertito's proposal to eliminate the February vacation was designed to keep the academic year from extending into the hot weather season if days lost to snow or tropical storms tack on extra time. Most of the town's schools are not completely air-conditioned.
Elimination of the February break - the motion included moving a professional development day from Jan. 18 to Feb. 15 - also decreases the likelihood of making up for snow days by cutting into April vacation.
In this school year, for example, three class days have been cancelled already -- two were caused by Tropical Storm Irene and the third by an unusual October snowstorm. As a result, school calendar has been extended by three days to June 21. If snow causes another cancellation, one more day will be added in June, but after that, days will be sliced off April vacation, according to Assistant Superintendent Karen Parks.
Fellow board members, as well as the public, debated Convertito's motion.
School board member Perry Liu said the February break is a good time to rest, and also is a time when people tend to get sick. He added that if the break were eliminated, many parents might pull their children out of classes anyway because they are used to having that break.
Sue Dow, who recently left the Board of Education, said students need the time off from pressures like Advanced Placement courses, sports and other activities they're involved in.
"They're already burnt out by that February vacation," said Dow. "Teachers are burnt out as well, and they look forward to that time away. Having been a teacher, it's tough to teach when the kids are zoned out."
Cristine Vitale, a member of the Dwight Elementary School PTA, took a different view. She told the board she and other parents agreed it's better for the children to be in school in February than in late June.
Representative Town Meeting member Mark Patton of District 7 sided with Vitale.
"Change is good," he said. He added the February break, combined with snow days -- which usually fall in January and February -- it often seems as though his children are out of school as much as they're in classes during that time of year. Patton, whose children attend North Stratfield School, also noted that many of the schools become overly hot in late June.
Another speaker told the board, "The later we go in June, the less learning we have going on."
Selectman James Walsh took to the podium to ask Superintendent of Schools David Title if there was any educational benefit to keeping the February break.
"I think you could make the case," Title said, "these days are better educationally than four at the end of the year."
An earlier motion by Convertito also sparked debate -- eliminating Veterans Day as a day off from classes.
Board Chairwoman Pamela Iacono was not a supporter. "I think if you offend even one veteran by holding school on that day, then that's one veteran too many," she said. "For anybody that's willing to lie down and die for our country, I think that we can stay home from school for a day."
Others felt it was beneficial to have classes in session on the holiday, especially Jennifer Maxon Kennelly, who suggested that many students don't do anything on that day off to pay respect to those who served.
"By being in the presence of a veteran (at a school-based program) on Veterans Day, you are teaching them to show respect to veterans," she said.
"If we need any more days, they can come out of April break," he said. "We're weighing the veterans against April break. It's dishonorable to not honor the veterans in this way (by a day off) in the hopes of saving one day."
"The children are better served learning about Veterans Day on Veterans Day, by veterans, in the classroom."
"I urge you, please, don't make us come back again, because we will every single year," Quinn said.
He added that he and other veterans are truly appreciated when they are welcomed into the schools to share their experiences. This year, approximately 15 members of American Legion Post 143 visited Stratfield, North Stratfield and McKinley Elementary Schools. However, they made their visits on Nov. 10, a day ahead of the Veterans Day holiday.
After Quinn spoke, the Board of Education shot down the motion to hold classes on the federal holiday. Convertito and Kennelly were outnumbered by a 7-2 vote. The 2012-2013 school year, as it stands right now, would end on June 12.