Government shutdown keeps Merchant Marine Academy cadets out of classes

Midshipmen march down Brooks Stadium during the viewing Midshipmen march down Brooks Stadium during the viewing parade as the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy welcomed 237 "plebe candidates" for the Class of 2017 Regiment of Midshipmen during the acceptance day ceremony at the campus in Kings Point. (Sept. 7, 2013) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Hundreds of students at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point have been shut out of classes since the federal government shutdown closed the service academy this week, prompting the academy to begin its fall break early in an effort to address the situation.

The academy, unlike the four other U.S. service academies, is operated under the Department of Transportation and stopped operations and administrative support programs when the shutdown began, Meghan Keck, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation said Thursday.

In response, the academy decided to begin its fall break Friday, instead of its usual start date of Nov. 1, a statement posted Thursday night on its website said.

"By swapping fall break from November to next week, we can both offer a greater degree of certainty and minimize the disruptive impact the shutdown is having on our academic calendar," the statement read.

If the shutdown continues beyond Oct. 14, the end of the new fall break, the academy will stay closed and will pay to fly students back to campus from their families' homes once the campus reopens.

Earlier rumors that students would be let out early on leave prompted local parents to offer their homes to out-of-state students who would have had trouble returning to campus quickly from their homes once the shutdown ended.

Jackie Pamlanye of Ronkonkoma, whose son Tim is a first-year student at the academy, said she had planned to take in a half-dozen students but now believes she'll only take in one or two who need a place to stay while arranging for flights home. "I'm confident the academy has made the best decision at this point," Pamlanye said.

The shutdown, and the lack of classes this week, had caused concern among students, parents and alumni.

Classes at the academy are taught primarily by civilians, who have been furloughed, and not military personnel.

"That's what we're all worried about -- the classes," said Jim Tobin, executive director of the USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation. "It's getting down to the end of the trimester."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said the closure of the academy was serious. "The country is at war right now, and we're closing down a military academy right now, which is insane," he said.

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