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School’s almost over — for some

Snow days extend classes elsewhere; post-Labor Day start also an issue

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / June 16, 2011

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While some area students will be packing coolers and digging out sand pails for sunny days at the beach by this weekend, many others must continue to drag book bags to steamy classrooms for another several days, as they plod toward a summer dismissal significantly delayed by last winter’s snowy weather.

Snow closed schools across the state for as many as five days last winter. Those days off, coupled with post-Labor Day starts still used in some districts, are pushing summer dismissals nearly to the end of the month in some communities.

Belmont students, who will be among the first in the state to begin summer vacation, wrap up classes tomorrow. But in Watertown, students must continue school until June 27, a mere week from the Fourth of July, and among the latest closing dates in the state.

Watertown’s school year started Labor Day. After snowy conditions canceled classes on four days, it became clear summer break would begin even later than anticipated. Parents were polled on how they wanted the missed days made up.

“We got community feedback on whether they wanted to use some of the April vacation or lengthen the school year, and it was pretty evenly split,’’ said the district’s superintendent, Ann Koufman-Frederick. Saturday classes were also suggested, Koufman-Frederick said, but won little support. Administrators decided to opt for the longer school year.

Koufman-Frederick would prefer to start school before Labor Day, but said it’s a contractual issue. “Right now we’re still in labor hearings, and the teachers have other things on their minds,’’ she said, so classes in the fall will again start after Labor Day.

Watertown parent Marilyn O’Connor said her three children are now regretting those snow days. “They’re disappointed that school closing is so late, and it’s so hot in the buildings,’’ O’Connor said. Her family is also traveling to Ireland this summer and would have preferred to leave sooner.

“But getting out late is kind of a given in Watertown,’’ she said. “The good part is that when it comes to the end of the summer, we have a little longer than other people get.’’

In Belmont, the school year begins on the first Wednesday in September, which fell last fall on Sept. 1. “This was also the first year we went without having two curriculum days where students are off,’’ said Assistant Superintendent Janice Darias. “The teachers did professional development after school.’’ Another calendar day was trimmed by holding classes on Good Friday, Darias said.

Belmont students won’t be quite so fortunate next school year, since the first Wednesday falls on Sept. 7, and classes won’t start until after the holiday weekend. “The last day has the potential to be in the 20s’’ of June, Darias said, depending on winter weather.

School districts in Boxborough, Framingham, Groton, Hopkinton, Hudson, Maynard, Natick, Newton, Northborough, Shrewsbury, and Sudbury — to name a few — open each year prior to Labor Day. Their final days this spring will fall between June 20 and 22, depending on the local snow-day count.

Arlington and Concord, which maintain post-Labor Day openings, won’t wrap up until June 24.

“It’s hard because the school isn’t air-conditioned,’’ said Heather Aordkian, whose two children attend Arlington’s Dallin Elementary School. “I think the teachers are compensating the best that they can with fans and lights off, but the days are long and hot.’’

According to Aordkian, parents were allowed to vote on the pre- or post-Labor Day start for the present school year. The majority chose the later start. “I like them to go after Labor Day, but my vote would be to see less vacations during the year so they would still get out earlier,’’ Aordkian said.

J.C. Considine, spokesman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said a handful of districts tried to get around the agency’s 180-day requirement by asking for a waiver.

“We denied all of them,’’ Considine said. “Time on learning is critical for all students, and because the lost time was in the winter, administrators have had ample time to adjust their calendars.’’

Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester had contacted districts statewide in early February to offer advice on how snow days could be made up. Suggestions included canceling or shortening the February or April vacations, converting professional development days into school days, scheduling Saturday classes, or adding days at the end of June.

“Student time on learning is a precious resource,’’ Chester said in his letter. “We recognize rescheduling missed days midyear may be inconvenient . . . but school officials should be able to make the arrangements necessary to ensure student learning time is not shortchanged.’’

Meanwhile, in Watertown, parent Cathy Williams said the late end of the school year may be a little difficult for her two children to handle, but she enjoys the additional family time that the post-Labor Day start provides.

“It will be tough for them to be in school now that the hot weather is here, but they have a lot of field trips and activities, which help,’’ she said.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.



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