Many New England schools stretch into summer to recoup snow days

Posted June 25, 2011, at 11:58 a.m.
Last modified June 26, 2011, at 3:04 p.m.

TOLLAND, Conn. — Thanks to last winter’s snow days, thousands of students across New England are spending the first days of summer with noses in books rather than toes in the sand.

Schools that normally would have ended their academic years by now are stretching classes into the coming week to recoup days they missed during the blizzards that socked the Northeast. While most districts have dismissed classes for the summer, those that are still in session say they don’t remember ever going so late into June.

For students and their families, it has meant shuffling vacation schedules, summer camp registrations and college orientations. It has also given them a later start than their peers in finding coveted summer jobs.

“My son did go to some places where they said, ‘Come back when you get out of school,’ so I guess he’ll go back and see if they still have openings,” said Karen Strobel of Tolland, Conn., where classes dismiss Monday.

Her 18-year-old son, Kristofer, had to take two days off from school this month for his college orientation at the University of Rhode Island. In a normal academic year, he would have had his diploma in hand already, but has to wait until Monday night to graduate.

In Connecticut, Hamden and Naugatuck also do not dismiss classes until Monday, and East Haven is in session until Tuesday. Several other districts in southern New England also do not end until Tuesday, including Boston, Westerly, R.I., and Middletown, R.I.

A few others, such as Salem, Mass., even stretch into Wednesday.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut require public schools to have at least 180 days of classes and they cannot extend the school year beyond June 30. A handful of Massachusetts districts requested waivers to the 180-day rule, but were denied.

“The commissioner is pretty firm that if lost days happened during the winter, you had plenty of time to readjust your calendar. Time in the classroom is very important and he wasn’t willing to grant those waivers,” said J.C. Consadine, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Time lost after June 3 does not have to be made up, though, so the western Massachusetts municipalities hit by tornadoes on June 1 were not required to add those lost days to their calendars.

School districts throughout southern New England started shuffling their schedules last winter as the number of snow days began piling up. They included days after the storms had cleared and the roads were fine, but school buildings remained closed while heavy snow and ice were removed from their roofs.

Even the record-setting winter of 1995-96 didn’t have the same effect on schools because several of its storms occurred on weekends.

Several of last winter’s heavy hitters occurred on weekdays, though, often Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

“This year was extraordinary in terms of trying to make everything work and providing a safe environment for the children. It was very challenging to say the least,” said William Guzman, superintendent in Tolland, Conn., and one of dozens of volunteers who donned boots and gloves to shovel school roofs.

Some communities trimmed or eliminated their February or April vacations to recoup lost days while others extended their calendars, figuring it was easier for parents to reschedule June plans than change winter break plans on short notice. Strobel, the Tolland mother, said they purposely moved their vacation later into the summer because of the uncertainty.

“You knew once the snow started piling up by January that things were not going to go as smoothly as they had in the past years,” she said.

School districts like Tolland knew they were risking a chance that late June heat could make their classroom conditions miserable, particularly since many New England school buildings do not have air conditioning. Other than a hot spell in early June, though, they got off lucky.

“We’ve been fortunate that it’s been overcast and raining this week. It’s taking the students’ and faculty’s minds off the fact that they might be missing anything outside,” said Roland Joyal Jr., principal of Chicopee High School in western Massachusetts.

And, he pointed out, students did have those unexpected days off this winter — sometimes conveniently giving them extra time to write papers, study for tests or catch up on reading assignments.

“We all had our time away, so they’re here to do business,” Joyal said.

Chicopee High gets out Tuesday but, like in many other Massachusetts districts, the senior class got out earlier and had its graduation a few weeks ago. That’s not the case in Connecticut, though, where seniors were shoulder to shoulder with underclassmen waiting to slam their lockers for the last time.

Although conditions were worst in southern New England, some northern areas also had to extend their school years because of snow and spring flooding that made some roads impassable.

The Chittenden East Supervisory Union in northern Vermont let out Thursday, making it one of the state’s last. That dismissal was about a week late, and five days after high school graduation.

“That’s the max which we did hit. Generally we don’t have five snow days or emergency days. This was a very unique year,” superintendent John Alberghini said.

Associated Press writer Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this story.

 

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