By Amanda Wyatt
A month after Hurricane Sandy barreled through the East End and shut down local schools – most for a full week – administrators and school board members are now scrambling to find ways of making up for lost instruction time.
And with weather forecasters and the Farmers’ Almanac predicting a particularly cold winter, with lots of precipitation for the Northeast, more missed school days might be on the horizon.
At public schools, which are required to hold 180 days of classes by state mandate, finding enough make-up days to cover just the school days lost to Hurricane Sandy is proving a challenge. In Sag Harbor, students missed five consecutive days of class due to the storm and its aftermath.
According to Theresa Samot, president of the Sag Harbor Board of Education, this is unprecedented.
“I don’t think anything like this has ever happened before, not as long as I can remember,” saidSamot.
Days for inclement weather and other emergencies, or “snow days,” are always built into school calendars, said Samot. Some years, she said, Sag Harbor hasn’t had to use any of its scheduled snow days, taking these unused days to extend vacations or weekends.
But this year, vacation time will not be extended. In fact, it is already being shortened.
Last week, the board of education announced that April 1 — originally part of Spring Break — would become a school day. The district’s two scheduled snow days, May 24 and May 28, will also be regular days of instruction.
Still, there are two days that have yet to be rescheduled. At the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Monday, December 3, Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso will make recommendations for the board to consider, said Samot.
According to Dr. Bonuso, one option is to convene classes on Thursday, February 21 and Friday, February 22, which were originally part of winter break. If additional snow days are needed, the Wednesday, Tuesday and Monday could also become scheduled school days.
However, Dr. Bonuso noted that the decision is up to the board of education and that other recommendations could be made at next week’s meeting. Following the meeting, the board is expected to send out a formal letter to the community detailing any additional changes to the calendar.
Meanwhile, Bridgehampton School is also trying to find extra instruction time in its calendar. Principal Jack Pryor noted these are “new waters” for the district, which lost three days of classes due to Sandy.
The good news, Pryor said, is that there were three snow days built into the calendar. The district was able to add another day to its calendar by holding school on Election Day – November 6 – which was originally supposed to be a superintendent’s conference day.
“Right now we’re in about as good a shape as anybody around here in that we still have one snow day available,” said Pryor. “We’re now in contact with the PTA, working with them as to what happens if we have a wicked winter.”
If needed, Pryor said, the school has the option of holding classes on April 1, as well as using another day scheduled for a superintendent’s conference later in April.
These decisions, he said, will “ultimately be made by the superintendent and the board of education.”
In any event, school administrators point out it is crucial to find enough time to hold 180 days of school. As Pryor mentioned, there are “tremendous legal and financial implications into altering the minimum number of days.”
With Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR) and other demanding new state mandates, teachers are now being held more accountable for student performance, said Pryor. For this reason, he explained, there is additional pressure to make the most of the school day –both students and teachers simply cannot afford to miss significant amounts of instruction time.
But for private schools, which do not operate under the same laws as public schools, missed classroom time is not quite as grave.
The Ross School, for example, missed four days as a result of Hurricane Sandy. While the school is required to hold a certain number of classes in order to be accredited, Interim Head of School Greg Maloberti said that they “aren’t in any danger of breaching that.”
Still, Ross faces an additional challenge with its boarding school, he noted. For example, many international students book their flights home months in advance, so shortening vacation time or tweaking the calendar would present a problem.
“So we actually don’t have a lot of flexibility to make up these days,” Maloberti said.
But not all instruction time was lost during the storm, he added. In the days after Sandy hit, the school held seminars on essay writing and proper citation for its boarding students.
While Ross does not have plans to reschedule classes, administrators are mindful of the possibility of future snow days.
“We’re hoping that we’ll be able to enjoy a mild winter and might be able to make up [missed school days] that way,” Maloberti added. “But if nature deals us a different hand, we’ll have to reassess this in the spring.”