Canceled school breaks ruining travel plans

Principal of the Centreach High School, Thomas Bell

Principal of the Centreach High School, Thomas Bell speaks with, seniors (clockwise starting with lower left) Emma Agostini, Sarah Steiger, Erica Doherty, and Samantha Lagville-Graham, about superstorm Sandy and the school vacations that may be cancelled due to closures due to the storm. (Nov. 21, 2012) (Credit: Steve Pfost)

Thousands of Long Islanders who dealt with power outages and gas shortages will have to decide whether to take long-scheduled midwinter vacation trips or cancel.

Cathy Ciacco, a longtime school nurse in the Syosset district, has booked a flight to the Caribbean for February. But her district, like many, recently canceled vacation days scheduled for Feb. 19-22, to make up class time lost to superstorm Sandy.

"My air fare is already paid for -- it's over $500," said Ciacco, who messaged Newsday last week to call attention to the situation faced by many school employees such as herself. "When I go away, my entire plane is filled with educators and their children. So I can either call in sick -- which I would never do -- or take personal days. And nurses only get four of those."


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The problem, as Ciacco sees it, is that educators have come to assume that districts will make up any classes lost to bad weather by canceling so-called snow days built into their calendars. The surprise this year was that schools across the Island were shut down for an unprecedented five to 10 days on average, prompting many districts to take more drastic action.

Teachers and other professional school employees work contractually for a certain number of days a year, usually 180 to 185. Time lost to weather typically is made up later in the year, often through non-classroom work such as in-school training seminars.

Districts may dock the pay of employees who miss work without a valid excuse. Some district officials have said privately that they would take such action if necessary.

So far, Albany officials responsible for statewide academic policy have not been swayed by arguments that school employees, students and their families who have been through Sandy and its aftermath should get their usual vacation breaks. To the contrary, the State Education Department has held that districts should exhaust vacation time before applying for waivers from the usual requirement of a 180-day school calendar.

One rationale offered for this policy is that teachers and other employees need adequate class time to prepare for more rigorous job evaluations than in the past, and that students need time to prep for tougher state exams.

Samantha Lagville-Graham, a 12th-grader at Centereach High School, said she felt forced to skip some newly scheduled midwinter classes. Her high school is part of the Middle Country system, which has canceled three days of the February break.

Lagville-Graham and about a dozen classmates have paid deposits on a February trip to Spain and Morocco.

"In order to back out now, we would have to lose, like, thousands of dollars," said the 17-year-old, who added that the trip would have educational value.

The district superintendent, Roberta Gerold, said she understands the dilemma faced by families with travel plans.

"We've told them it's an individual choice for parents," she said.

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