By Dustin Luca
---- — After a half day of school tomorrow, Good Friday, high school students will also have a full day of school on a Saturday in April to make up last week’s additional snow day.
The School Committee had voted previously to hold a half day of school tomorrow, Good Friday for the high school students. A fresh vote on the issue was approved 3-2 in favor of keeping Good Friday as a half-day for all schools as a result of the March 19 snowstorm. The committee also added Saturday, April 27, as a full day of school for high school students.
The high school faces one more makeup day than the rest of the town’s schools because a gas leak on Jan. 10 shut just that school for a day.
Assuming there are no more days lost to emergencies or inclement weather, the school year will end for all students on Friday, June 28 — the last day possible as ironed out under the School Committee’s contract with the department’s teachers union.
Though the vote passed, during discussion, committee and audience members focused heavily on the idea of using a religious holiday to hold school, even with an early release.
Members David Birnbach and Dennis Forgue opposed the Good Friday proposal. Birnbach also voted against it in the board’s earlier 4-1 vote a few weeks ago.
During discussions, two possible Saturdays were targeted as being good days to hold school: April 6 and 27. Brinbach and Forgue proposed using both of those days as makeup days in lieu of one Saturday and Good Friday.
Annie Gilbert opposed idea however, largely because of the prior vote having already taken place. Because the School Committee already told the community that Good Friday would be a school day, it would be better to just stick with it, she said.
Town Moderator Sheila Doherty advocated for changing Good Friday back to a day off, saying she preferred “that we not go down the road of using Good Friday.”
“As a community, Andover has always respected the holy days of its citizens, regardless [of their beliefs],” she said. “This is a terribly difficult situation.”
Kerry Costello, Andover Education Association president, said she remembered one instance of the schools having class on Good Friday, so doing so this year wouldn’t establish a precedent.
Costello added that there are several other religions followed by Andover residents, and not all of these groups have their religious days off.
“We need to be cognizant that there are other religions that celebrate holidays that are not given any exception,” she said. “The Greek Orthodox, they celebrate Good Friday — but not on March 29.”
“We could go down the list of other religions,” she added. “Sometimes in the conversations, other religions get left aside.”
One issue going into the prior 4-1 vote was whether too many faculty would put in for the day off to allow for religious observance. The deadline to take the day off was last Wednesday, March 20.
Forty-eight school staff put in for the day off, and to cover those positions, 28 substitute teachers were needed, according to Superintendent Marinel McGrath. The district was able to find 28 substitutes to fill the holes.
Moments before supporting Good Friday as a half day of school, School Committee Chairwoman Paula Colby-Clements said the idea of having school on a religious holiday wasn’t a controversial one for Andover families.
“I’m feeling like our decision has to be based on what we think the will of the community is,” she said. “I was very surprised at how few emails we received over that decision.”
In fact, “what I’m hearing more from folks is they’re more concerned about [what we do with] the calendar going forward, as opposed to how we’re going to resolve the immediate problem,” she said.