Montville students will observe Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day in school this year as the Montville Township Board of Education voted 5-2 to approve the calendar change at Tuesday night's meeting.
Board members began discussion at last week's reorganization meeting after Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried said he had heard concerns from community members about days being subtracted from the March break in the event of another snow day this year. The district used more than its snow day allowance in the days following Superstorm Sandy.
Fried told the board that the district already needed to make up one day to reach the full 180 instructional days required by the state Department of Education. But even so, with the winter nearly half over, more snow days could be needed. As a result, Fried recommended the two holidays be used as school days, with Martin Luther King Day as a half day for students and half day of professional development for teachers and Presidents Day as a full day of instruction, before days become subtracted from the March break.
"If parents have unchangeable plans for Jan. 21, they can, of course, keep those plans," Fried said.
Fried said absences will be excused on a case-by-case basis, particularly on the middle and high school levels where attendance counts toward a student's grade. In the past, Fried said when the district attempted to blanket excused absences in similar situations, it became complicated.
The superintendent noted his sensitivity to the fact that the decision was being made less than a week from Martin Luther King Day before the board voted.
"I think it is unfortunate that, potentially, we would be making this decision with such short notice," he said.
But Board President Dr. Karen Cortellino said Montville is not the only school district having to make similiar decisions regarding bringing students in on holidays.
"We're not unique in having this discussion and making these decisions," she said.
Board Members Jackie Ritschel and Charles Grau said they had heard feedback from parents on both sides of the argument and that they seemed passionate about whichever stance they took-that students should attend school on the holidays or that they should not and the day or days should be taken off spring break. Ritschel said she would typically agree that the calendar should not be changed.
"We make these arrangements early on, but this is unusual," she said.
Board Member Michael Palma had similar sentiments and said Sandy changed the circumstances.
"While I certainly do sympathize and I understand the people who said, 'I went by what the calendar said,' I think we just have to be flexible," he said.
But Grau disagreed and explained that he was not in favor of the change because he felt the district was not honoring the calendar that had been communicated to parents earlier in the year. Board Member John Morella also voted against having school on the holidays.
"I think that we have an obligation to the people that followed the rules," Grau said.
Fried said he thought that changing the calendar to have school in session on added days and informing parents in advance could be easier on parents than not having school on scheduled days, in which case they would potentially have to seek childcare. In the event that the additional snow day is not used, Fried said the day could be added on to Memorial Day weekend.
Homework will also not be recommended to be given by teachers during the Martin Luther King Day or Presidents Day school days, as Fried said vacation rules that were part of the homework taskforce's recommendations would be implemented.
Cortellino said she also is typically a strong proponent of maintaining the school calendar as initially communicated. But this year, she said neither she or other board members could have predicted that all of the snow days would be used before January.
Ritschel asked, as she did at the previous board meeting in which the topic was discussed, that future calendars be reconsidered to accomodate for the possibility of snow days being used early like this year. Fried said he would be asking the committee that created the upcoming calendar to take a second look.
"There does seem to be a trend of a white Halloween and a warm Christmas," Ritschel said.