A new calendar presented and approved at the Wall Board of Education's meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 20 stipulates that the current school year will now end on June 27 for students, one week later than what was scheduled before Superstorm Sandy hit.
The district's schools were closed on Oct. 29 and did not reopen until Nov. 12 because of the massive storm, which devastated the Jersey shore region and caused severe damage and power outages across the state.
Wall Township is just one of many districts across the tri-state area that has been struggling in the aftermath of Sandy to come up with make-up days for its students. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has so far maintained the state's 180-day school year, which all public schools must comply with in order to receive state funding.
Superintendent Daniel Simon presented the new calendar at the meeting, emphasizing that a lot of thought went into it. Although he recognized that additional days at the end of the year are not ideal, he said they were still the best option.
"Typically you build in days with the anticipation that you're going to have snow days. You build in snow days. We haven't even hit December yet," Simon told the public, going on to explain this as being one of the reasons the majority of the make-up days are at the end of the school year. Because of the likelihood of snow this winter, two snow days remain built into the calendar.
Another deciding factor was the anticipated low attendance of both students and teachers around typical winter holidays, which would make it unreasonable to add extra days at these times. Then there was the option of holding school on Saturdays, which Simon said was the least appealing option for a number of reasons.
"Those are truthfully the very last possible resort," he said. "But we knew that if we really came down to it and there was some sort of a freak late spring storm, or some type, and we had used our two (snow days) we'd know we have the Saturday option."
As of right now, however, the plan for dealing with more inclement weather is as follows: If more than the two snow days are used before Feb. 11, make-up days will be taken from the scheduled winter recess from Feb. 11-15. If additional days are needed after that but before April 1, they will be taken from spring break (scheduled for April 1-5). Only after that will the district look to open on Saturdays.
"Let's just keep our fingers crossed for no snow," Simon said. "That's probably the easiest thing to do."
Board member Anne Moonan expressed concern for students who already have travel plans in place during the school year's breaks. For some students, she said, having perfect attendance is very important and these plans could affect that.
Simon responded that the impact of the new calendar should be minor, but as Moonan pointed out, there are still issues that need to be discussed. "First we really needed to determine what the calendar was going to be," he said. "After the calendar is approved today, we'll be able to have those conversations."
Simon, Director of Technology Jeff Janover, Mayor Jeff Foster and Police Chief Robert Brice led a public forum on the matter last week on Nov. 13, where members of the public spoke out about their concerns. Nevertheless, public comments at Tuesday night's packed board meeting revealed that not everyone is happy with the new plan.
Multiple parents called the calendar "disappointing" and not what they expected, primarily citing the extra length of the school year and the amount of half-days as problematic. One parent even expressed concerns about her daughter now possibly having to miss her high school graduation because of a trip she already had scheduled after the school year was supposed to end.
Simon said that public feedback and comments would also be taken into consideration when the calendar is being drawn up for the 2013-14 school year. Board President John Tavis also made a comment of his own:
"It's just so hard, you know, for [Simon], because as he said in the beginning no matter what you do certain people aren't going to be happy," he told the public. "But I do think all your points are excellent points and make sense, and they're points that [Simon] has discussed with the board... and with the administrators. So even though he doesn't want to get into another debate here, I want you to know that all the points you brought up this evening were discussed."