Like lots of parents, my wife and I get thrown off annually by a cursory look at the district calendar in September that tells us the school year ends, in this case, on Friday, June 21. So many moms and dads think, "We really don't have to worry about camp madness, child-care madness, midnight bedtimes, the complete breakdown of our work schedules or satisfying a 24-hour a day Gatorade 'n' Nutella habit until Monday, June 24."
But then, early in June for organized parents and a bit later for the "less structured," the far more specific calendar of truth comes home to roost.
Last week, our daughter came home Monday and said, "My friends say we don't have school again until Thursday, and then we just have exams two hours a day."
"Oh, sweetie, they're probably just joking with you, like when they told you it was legal to kiss a boy you're not married to," my wife replied. "You have school until next Friday."
But when we huddled over the district website, checking first the summary calendar, then the school-specific calendar, then surfing over to the sixth-grade tab toward the "2012-2013 End-of-School-Year Calendar Schedule Appendix For Girls in Sixth-Grade on Team A Who Have No Siblings and Play a Stringed Instrument Other Than Harp" we discovered that strange and confusing times were again upon us.
There are the school days on which there is no school. Worse, though, is the tangle of half-days, quarter-days, field days, fun days and professional development days.
After years of hearing the education establishment bemoan the fact that all schools have time to do any more is "teach to the test," I can't help thinking that having the kids actually attend school during the last two weeks of school would open some fresh opportunities to enrich and expand their young, fertile minds.
I called one of my best sources to talk about this, an educator who has been both a principal and superintendent on Long Island, but the most I could get out of him on this apparently very touchy topic was, "You are certainly not the first person to make this argument."
Now, I understand that school is not day care, although that's confused by the fact that we take our kids there daily and hope they'll be cared for. I also get that school schedules can't be entirely molded around the normal daily work lives of parents, and that teachers don't set these bizarre end-of-year calendars and often seem to find them as maniacal as students and parents do.
For us the worst came Tuesday. Misreading the color-coded chart made to guide us through this silly season, I left my daughter at what seemed like a very quiet school drop-off (it usually has a certain "LaGuardia, but with more traffic and security" feel) -- a stillness that was easily understood once we discovered, via telephone, that I had dropped her there two hours early.
A broad survey of district calendars indicates these past two weeks of faux school and bizarre scheduling are pretty much the Islandwide rule. Many cafeterias stopped serving lunch at the beginning of last week because that was the last time anyone was at school long enough to need nutrition.
I know development days and time to process exams and report cards are necessary, but if the report cards don't come for a few weeks and the professional development happens after the end of the "school year," that's fine, I think.
So let's forget the quarter-days and field days and spirit days, and keep the educational pedal to the metal until school's out. But if we can't add instruction, let's just keep the kids home and give them a head start on the 24-hour-a-day "Television, Texting and Tostitos" plan. It's not a good schedule, but at least it's one we can plan for.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.