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Editorial: For education's sake, end the midwinter break

Classrooms across Long Island were empty on Thursday.

Classrooms across Long Island were empty on Thursday. Check our listings of delayed openings, closures and cancellations to see what's in store for Friday. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Most Long Island schools districts canceled some or all of their midwinter breaks this week, and it looks like the result will be poor attendance. In Cold Spring Harbor, absences on Monday, Presidents Day, were about six times the norm.

That's not necessarily surprising: Families that committed thousands of nonrefundable dollars to vacations long before superstorm Sandy came ashore and drenched the school calendar weren't willing to take a loss. But this does provide a good time to ask whether the midwinter break even makes sense.

The state requires a minimum of 177 days of instruction and three days of staff training each year, and districts falling below that can lose state aid. In most industrialized nations, kids attend at least 190 days. And in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced in his State of the State address earlier this year that he wants New York to pay all the additional expense for school districts willing to increase instructional time by 25 percent.

The midwinter break is an anomaly, unusual outside the Northeast. It was introduced during the 1973 Arab oil embargo to save money on heating oil and gasoline. It was never intended to be permanent.

School calendars aren't very flexible. Serious storms can wreak havoc on them. And not scheduling this vacation is a much better option than having to cancel it. Nobody wants families to lose their shirts on canceled vacations, but it's even more important that students don't miss crucial class time.

The best answer is for districts to stop scheduling this vacation, creating the opportunity to provide more instruction, and the needed leeway to respond to inclement weather.