Attendance relatively low as LI schools open on Presidents Day

On Presidents Day, students who showed up at On Presidents Day, students who showed up at Glen Cove high school walk the halls during a class change. (Feb. 18, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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Long Island schools that opened for the first time ever on Presidents Day reported lower attendance in many instances.

School officials Monday predicted that more students will attend in coming days, as classes are held during the week traditionally reserved for midwinter breaks.

In Cold Spring Harbor, superintendent Judith Wilansky said between 62 percent and 68 percent of students showed up. Attendance usually hovers around 95 percent, she added.

Wilansky recalled one anxious parent who told her the family had saved for years for a trip to Costa Rica during the break.

"But it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip," the schools chief said. "I told them, 'Go. Enjoy.' "

Fourteen districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties offered classes Monday to make up time lost to superstorm Sandy and a recent blizzard, a Newsday survey found. Another 75 of the region's 124 districts will open Tuesday or later during the week.

Some teens who attended classes Monday said they were close to exhaustion after weeks of helping families and neighbors cope with the effects of floods, power outages and record snowfalls. They also reported that schools added extra classes between midterm exams to recapture more instructional time.

"It's very stressful," said Paulo Coelho, 17, a senior at Glen Cove High School, where he is class treasurer. "We are going to learn more by being here. But I felt it [the extra class time] could have been spread out."

Coelho added that attendance was lower than usual in a morning gym class he attended. A classmate, Gabriella Ermmarino, 17, said she noticed the same thing in a psychology class, though the teacher expressed surprise that many students turned up.

Glen Cove officials said attendance was stable at the high school but lower than usual at two elementary schools. Attendance also was down in East Rockaway, Half Hollow Hills, Huntington and Wyandanch.

At Wyandanch High School, one 17-year-old junior said she skipped class and spent the day with her boyfriend, who graduated last year.

"I just thought no one would go," she said, walking with her boyfriend down the street near campus. The 11th-grader added that she plans to attend class the rest of the week.

Another junior, Kemberly Fleurinay, 16, said she never considered skipping. She's an honors student who hopes to become a nurse, and said she values class time.

"Let's just say the hallways weren't packed," Fleurinay told a reporter as she walked home from school. "But in the honors classes, all the kids came."

Under state law, districts must offer a minimum 177 days of student instruction, plus three days of staff training. Districts falling short of the minimum lose state financial aid.

Joseph Laria, Glen Cove's superintendent, said that staying open during traditional midwinter recess was "something we didn't want to do, because it disrupted people's plans, but these are hard choices."

Monday marked the first Presidents Day opening in Glen Cove High's 50-year history.

Chris Barry, 44, a communications teacher there, said about half his students showed up for a morning class in TV studio production.

"I'm 15 years in education," Barry said. "Trying to remember the last time I worked Presidents Day. It was probably when I was in college."

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