Editorial: Despite Sandy, students deserve full school year
Practically every school district on Long Island lost five to 10 days of instruction after superstorm Sandy. The aggressively prudent ones, about 40 of 124 districts, say they have already begun making moves to deal with this by canceling midwinter vacations and other scheduled days off, or say they will do so as soon as possible. That's wise, for two reasons:
There's no way to tell what this winter's weather will bring, and how many more days of instruction children may miss because of snow.
It's important for children to attend school, so they can learn things.
EDITORIALS: Shaped by Sandy
In the wake of truly disastrous weather, there are ways for districts to get around the state requirement that schools be open for instruction at least 180 days per year. Most commonly, the state Education Department can issue waivers for up to five days of missed classes, but that's not a "Get Out of School Free" card. State officials say districts can't use those waiver days until they've exhausted all other options: canceled any planned vacations that can legally be canceled, and held school on days that were originally scheduled to be superintendent's days or snow days.
The State Legislature could void the 180-day requirement too, in addition to an Education Department waiver. This happened last year when, in the wake of the big storms Irene and Lee, a five-day waiver did not provide enough leeway for devastated upstate districts. Legislators in Albany passed a one-time law to waive five more days (for a total of 10) for districts that needed it, but that exemption was not signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo until July 18, for a school year that was over.
Some lawmakers say they will try to pass a similar waiver this year, but educators can't plan based on that, both because it might not happen and because it does nothing to get kids the instruction days they need.
Regardless of how pliable the Education Department and legislators might prove to be in an emergency, districts need to start rescheduling now to make up any days they can. Waiting only increases the chances that parents and teachers won't be able to make personal plans. Vacations that districts must cancel before they can use an Education Department waiver include those near both Easter and Passover, as well as Memorial Day. It would be a shame if schools took midwinter vacations, were buffeted by snow, and then had to hold school on days that interfered with religious observances.
Worse than that possibility is the prospect that kids won't get the instruction they deserve. School districts that wait to adjust their calendars, hoping for mild weather, face an increased chance that a terrible winter will leave districts with too few chances to make up missed days.
If schools, having done everything possible to give 180 days of instruction, can't make it happen and need waivers, that's reasonable. Right now, though, districts need to focus on making sure they are, in fact, doing everything possible to get the 180 days in.