Williams: February vacation? Bah, humbug!
This isn't going to make me very popular with my 14-year-old son, his buddies (or even some of his teachers), but isn't that what good parenting is about, anyway?
Thanks to superstorm Sandy, most of the 62 public school districts in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties were closed for several unplanned days as workers removed fallen trees, sopped up floodwaters and waited for electricity to be restored at school buildings. Although it was far from fun for students, many of whose families were seriously affected by the storm, the students essentially had a bonus multiday vacation plopped upon them at the end of October. That unexpected vacation caused many districts to deplete their reserved snow days in one watery swath.
But according to New York State law, school districts must be in session for no less than 180 days. With the unplanned week off -- and with winter not even yet begun, so real snow days are still a possibility -- students could very easily fall short of meeting that 180-day requirement.
The New York City Department of Education has already decided how to fix that: It announced last month it would upend the upcoming February winter break that follows President's Day, so that schools will be open on Feb. 20, 21 and 22. Additionally, New York City schools will convert a half day in June to a full day to make up additional lost time.
I know, I know. It's not a popular decision. Some parents, teachers and students undoubtedly have to undo planned vacations during the winter break. But as a parent of two sons, I've never been thrilled with the February break. It comes just about seven weeks after the kids were out for the December holidays. Many working parents can't take off additional time in February after trying to accommodate the winter holiday break. For many families, the February break becomes a "vacation" that leaves parents scrambling to find child care, or just something for their school-age children to do all day.
So from this parent's vantage point, there's no love lost in scrapping some of those February vacation days.
How did this February vacation week come about anyway? It began during the 1970s as a way to save energy during the oil crisis. Since then, it's become an expected part of the school year, even though we haven't had much of an "oil crisis" in many years. Don't expect the February vacation to go the way of the dodo anytime soon, but if we can pick off from that week to balance out the days lost to Sandy, I'm all for it.
Officials in some school districts, such as Greenburgh Central 7, have already decided to whittle away at the February or spring vacation. Others, like Ossining Union Free School District, have decided to lengthen some already planned half-days. Several other districts have not yet decided how they'll make up for the days lost to superstorm Sandy. Still others, like Carmel, North Rockland and Brewster, haven't yet determined whether they'll recoup any future vacation days.
No doubt, there will be some hard feelings, gnashing of teeth, maybe even tears in the districts that cut back on vacations. But beyond that, it will also cause some much-needed learning to continue. And isn't that the primary reason for spending those 180 days in school in the first place?
Gayle T. Williams, a journalist for nearly 30 years, lives in Greenburgh. She's an editor at Consumer Reports. The opinions expressed here are her own.