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Wall Street Journal / News - Politics

New York-Area Storms Take a Bite Out of Spring Break

Two recent powerful storms that resulted in more school closures this winter is forcing some New York City suburban districts to claw back spring-break vacation time.

Children enjoy the snow in New York City during a January storm. Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images


Melanie Grayce West


Parents in the New York City suburbs who already have endured school closures and power outages this winter now face an even chillier prospect: A shortened spring break.

Several school districts remained closed on Thursday, recovering from back-to-back severe winter storms that knocked out power to thousands of homes during the past week. The run of bad weather has caused a number of lower Hudson Valley school districts to alter holiday breaks that typically bookend Easter and Passover.

The Croton-Harmon Union Free School District in Westchester County remained closed on Thursday after last week’s nor’easter knocked out power for days.

The district, with about 1,600 students, has exhausted the total number of emergency closing days, according to Superintendent Edward Fuhrman Jr. Students now must report to school on March 26, the first day of a planned spring break. If the district is closed another day, then one more day of spring break will go.

Elke Raskob, co-president of the Croton-Harmon High School PTSA, said the change is upsetting some parents’ plans, especially those who have already paid for school trips scheduled for that week. “These kids are going to go anyway,” she said. “You can’t change a trip to France.”

New York state school districts are required to be in session for not less than 180 days, or they risk losing state aid. State regulations require districts to use up all vacation days before asking for relief from the State Education Department, which has the ability to forgive up to five days of emergency school closures.

In December, the state Board of Regents discussed revising the 180-day requirement and converting to an “annual aggregate minimum hours requirement,” which would allow districts more flexibility in how they recoup missed days.

That kind of flexibility, said Joseph Hochreiter, superintendent of the Hendrick Hudson School District in Westchester County, would allow schools enough planning and notification time to tack on extra minutes to the end of the school day in May and June, relieving parents and teachers the current “stress about vacation plans.”

Thursday marked the seventh day of school closures in Mr. Hochreiter’s district. So far, a mid-June conference day has been canceled and the Friday before Memorial Day is next to go, he said.

“Spring break is known 14 months in advance. People rent a house in Florida or make plans for Europe,” Mr. Hochreiter said. “It’s an inconvenience trying to determine who didn’t make plans and who will report to work, and it’s always a crapshoot which kids will come in.”

Several Rockland County school districts also remained closed Thursday. The Nanuet Union Free School District will be in session on Friday, wiping out a Superintendent’s Conference Day. The Clarkstown Central School District plans to take back April 5 and 6 to make up for school cancellations, shortening its spring recess.

Superintendents said abrupt changes in school calendars, especially affecting spring break, can create problems in finding enough substitute teachers or affect how teachers introduce new content when a classroom is partially empty.

Some school districts, including the Katonah-Lewisboro School District in Westchester County, have contractual agreements with teachers to protect spring break. Now, on its seventh day of closure, the district has built in a number of contingency days later in the school year and doesn’t have a February break, said Superintendent Andrew Selesnick.

The Lakeland Central School District in Westchester County also was on its seventh day of closure Thursday. To make up those days, the district will convert a May conference day to a school day and claw back two days from spring break, unless the state forgives the days, said Superintendent George Stone.

Meanwhile, weather forecasters on Thursday were nervously watching yet another potential nor’easter that could affect the area early next week.