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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Will distance learners have a Field Day with half days?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered teachers and students

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered teachers and students to work through the scheduled spring break. But it was unclear when the school year would end. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Back during my most active parenting years, when taking care of and entertaining the Beloved Sapling was more of a full-time adventure, my wife and I came to agree that the school year and the summer break had one thing in common: We could not wait for them to begin, and we could not wait for them to end.

Each season has its challenges, and I imagine distance-learning manages to combine those challenges rather brutally.

Would ending the school year early help? Judging by the parents and school district superintendents I’ve asked, it depends on whether your children are the kind who think algebra is an adventure or the kind who believe higher math and English literature are a cruel hoax.

But like it or hate it, the school year that turned into distance learning in March is going to end about two weeks early in most or all Long Island school districts in June, whether parents know it yet or not.

In April, when many districts were just trying to find their footing with distance-learning, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered teachers and students to keep working through the scheduled spring break. But nobody said anything about when the school year would end.

Teachers are contracted with local districts to teach a set number of days each year. The state is so broke it ought to consider selling naming rights to new taxes (Taco Bell Loco Billionaire Capital Gains Fiesta Surcharge, anyone?). Many parents try to cadge the family computer to file for unemployment during the kid’s distance-learning lunch break. No one has money to pay teachers for extra days. And teachers’ unions are not in the business of giving away labor.

So, although the state never said when schools should close, the two attorneys who represent most Long Island districts told them to avoid lawsuits by shutting down early enough to reflect the extra days of teaching during spring break, and the districts are letting parents know.

In the Rockville Centre School District, for instance, Superintendent William Johnson sent out a letter last week saying instruction would end on June 17 rather than June 26.

“It’s not exactly closing early,” said Johnson. “We will have been open 183 days, just as we are supposed to be.”

Educators and parents agree that not much learning would get lost by canceling the final week or so of school even in a normal year. It’s a lot of field days, a lot of teachers showing movies, a lot of weird theme days and a lot of half-days, the scourge of the two-job family.

“So camps haven’t opened yet and school is like three hours? I want to talk to whoever thought up this system!”

Plus, science! A paper published last month by the Annenburg Institute at Brown University concluded students learn at about twice the rate in the first half of the school year as they do in the second half, when standardized tests are administered and silliness abounds.

“I would have thought I’d hear from parents who wanted kids busy until the end of June, but I mostly didn’t,” Johnson said. “When we first sent kids home, we thought the distance-learning would be a sprint. It was a marathon. And I think teachers and parents and students are ready for something different now.”

And for those who aren’t, maybe districts can just recreate the traditional final week of school for kids. You know, have them watch “Ghostbusters,” sprint across the lawn while carrying an egg in a spoon, and interrupt their parents’ workday at noon to demand a trip to McDonald’s.

[Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.