Hudson Valley school districts are rapidly burning through snow days in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Now some New York school officials are calling on Albany to waive these emergency closures from the state's 180 school-days requirement or they say they will be forced to shorten spring break.
"Here we are, it's not even the winter yet. . . . It's a little scary to be out of snow days," North Rockland Schools Superintendent Ileana Eckert said.
Schools in the district will be closed all week. The situation is similar for many Westchester districts, where many schools won't be reopened until Monday. And in Orange, while many schools reopened Thursday, districts in the southern portion of the county remain shuttered.
Because of Sandy, Eckert said her district, which only had four emergency days built in, will take back one planned vacation day later this year.
With Jewish holy days in September falling on weekdays, officials were already feeling anxious about their snow-day allotment before Hurricane Sandy hit, Warwick schools Superintendent Ray Bryant said. If school districts aren't in session for 180 days, they lose state funding for each day missed.
Rockland superintendents met Wednesday and made a request to the state education department for guidance on the situation. Orange-Ulster BOCES head Terry Olivo said the state education commissioner can only waive the requirement once a district has used up all other scheduled recess days. Otherwise, waiving the days requires legislative action.
"I would like to think that in the end they (legislators) would recognize that this truly is a storm of epic proportion, and that there will be special legislative considerations," Olivo said.
Middletown superintendent Ken Eastwood, whose schools were closed for three days, has already put in a request with Assemb. Aileen Gunther (D-Middletown) to float a bill that would automatically waive school closure days any time a state of emergency is declared. Eastwood said other states already have such a law on the books.
He thinks New York should take a lesson from Hurricane Sandy and pass a similar proposal.
"This is an appropriate time to address this," Eastwood said.
Gunther was noncommital about introducing a bill but she said she's certain the issue will be discussed once communities deal with immediate concerns of power outages and road closures.
"The bottom line is I don't think that the schools should be penalized for a natural disaster," Gunther said.