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Parents, Teachers Union React to Vacation Cancellation

Snow days will force students into classrooms during regularly scheduled vacation days

Extraordinary times, they say, call for extraordinary measures. So it is for the February break, which for Regional District 17 Schools, got buried by the big snow.

On Feb. 7, the RSD17 Board of Education unanimously voted to subtract four days from February break to compensate for seven cancelled days of school.

Haddam-Killingworth Education Association teachers union president and H-K Middle School technology teacher Robin Duffield says her teachers are behind the board’s decision. “These are unprecedented times and we’re making it work.”

That’s not to say the union expected this to happen.

“Many of the teachers were very much surprised,” Duffield says, upon learning of the cancellation the next morning.

“But because the structure of the educational process was scattered with delayed openings and early dismissals, we’ve had to have shorter classes or sometimes cut out a class altogether,” Duffield explains.

Additionally with two delayed openings and two early dismissals in the region, even though these four days aren’t technically counted as “lost,” Duffield says, “It still impacts the learning day.”

The BOE kept President’s Day (Feb. 21) as a vacation day. The last day of school in the region now stands at June 21 (June 22 for Burr Elementary because of a burst pipe last September).

If additional make-up days are needed, Superintendent of Schools Gary Mala says, they will be tacked onto the last day of school.

Surrounding schools were faced with similar challenges this week. In East Haddam, the last day of school, originally June 13, was moved at Tuesday’s BOE meeting to June 22.

In Region 13 (Durham and Middlefield) the BOE subtracted two days from the school calendar during Wednesday's meeting — from 182 to 180, the minimum amount required by the state — to ease the burden of scheduling make-up days. Schools in Region 13 will also be open on April 1 (previously a professional development day) and April 18 (originally the first day of April recess). The school year will end June 24.

In Middletown Tuesday evening, the BOE voted to rescind the first four days of April vacation and extend the school year until June 21 (June 22 for middle-schoolers) to compensate for eight snow days. A huge point of contention in Middletown was the large number of teachers and staff (some say as high as 50 percent) who could not alter their vacations.

In Haddam and Killingworth, Duffield says, “A few teachers and families had plans that could not be cancelled, so the district, union and staff will be closely working together to make sure all classes are covered.”

“We did a survey in advance of the board making its decision, asking how many people have plans that cannot be cancelled; [such as] a cruise booked. We did have a few workarounds and some substitute staffing.”

Michele Amendola of Killingworth, whose son Phoenix Campagnuolo is a 14-year-old freshman at HKHS, and daughter China Campagnuolo is a 12-year-old seventh-grader at HKMS, says she supports the cancellation. 

“It is the right decision. Having vacation in less than two weeks will only further disrupt a learning process that has been disrupted enough already. I am pleased that Mr. Mala had the courage to make this recommendation, and the Board the courage to approve it.” 

Jen Saglio, director of child care services at the Haddam-Killingworth Recreation Department, is mother to three children, two of which are school-age: a 10-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl.

“As a mom with kids in school who are totally out of their routine, I feel having [school that week] is a good thing. The kids need a routine, to be back in school. During all these snow days, they get lazier.

“I think the schoolwork is slacking off and with the [Connecticut Mastery Tests looming], I know the teachers are feeling it,” Saglio says.

Nancy Dansereau of Killingworth has six kids, two of which are still in school, a 14-year-old eighth-grade girl and 9-year-old fourth-grade boy at Killingworth Elementary.

“I’m personally thrilled just because the kids have been out of school so much, they’re just jumping off the walls.

“I didn’t see it coming, such a big turnaround, for whatever reason, I thought it was brilliant,” Dansereau says.

Tanja Moriarty of Haddam, whose 17-year-old son is a senior at the high school, agrees.

“I think it’s a good idea to not have vacation. There have just been so many days as it is. There have been so many snow days that the kids are bored silly, they need the stimulation of school.”

Moriarty sees the same thing happening to her 13-year-old niece. “Every time there’s a snow day, she bellyaches about it, she’s so bored out of her mind. I think the kids need the stimulation and socialization.”

Even HK Recreation Director Robyne Brennan sees a silver lining.

“February vacation camp will have to be cancelled, except Monday, President’s Day,” she says. “And now we can have make-up classes since we missed several Wednesday classes, like karate and archery. They were canceled because of snow.”

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