Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 21, 2013

Good Friday added as school day after storm

By Dustin Luca
Staff Writer

---- — Tuesday’s snowstorm will send school officials back to the drawing board on the school calendar, after the School Committee voted last week to hold high school classes on Good Friday due to the number of school days lost at the high school so far this year.

Before this week’s storm, Andover’s nine elementary, middle and choice schools were set to have their last day of school on Friday, June 28, the last regular day possible in the calendar before the end of the academic year. The teachers contract does not allow any school days after June 30.

The high school faced a different problem, however. Because a gas leak closed that school on Jan. 10, opening up Andover High on a Saturday or holiday is now necessary to make up that day, according to Superintendent Marinel McGrath.

The committee voted 4-1 to have a half-day of school on Good Friday, March 29.

“Good Friday is not a federal holiday,” McGrath said. “It’s one we give to the parent community for religious observances. Therefore, we can have a half-release day and people can still fulfill their religious observations, because in the Christian faiths, between 12 and 3 o’clock are the main times that people would need to observe.”

Additionally, “since we’ll have that as an early release day, parents can write to excuse them for that day and it doesn’t count towards their absenteeism,” McGrath said.

A backup date for the extra day of school has been slated for Saturday, April 27. School staff are able to put in for a religious observance for Good Friday, and they had until yesterday, Wednesday, to do so, according to McGrath.

“If in fact we don’t have enough teachers, then we have to default to April 27,” she said.

Committee member David Birnbach opposed the plan, however, saying he felt holidays “are black and white, either we do them or not.”

“If we have alternatives — which you do, which is Saturday — I’d rather go Saturday,” he said.

But that was before Tuesday’s storm brought yet another school day to the district, now giving the high school seven cancelled days and the town’s other schools six. With Tuesday’s snow day, officials will now need to figure out how to make up another day for all schools, according to committee member Annie Gilbert.

Gilbert said the topic may hit the table when the committee meets tonight, Thursday, March 21. With school offices closed Tuesday and the snow continuing to pile, no news of that sort was available before Townsman deadline, she said.

Also not available was how many teachers have filed to take off Good Friday for religious observance. A deadline to take off the day was set to pass after Townsman deadline.

Assuming enough teachers would be on hand for Good Friday, “what we could do, given today’s situation, is have it be both Good Friday and that backup Saturday,” for high school students, Gilbert said.

However, a conversation about that solution hasn’t yet taken place, she said Tuesday.

While Andover was facing a scheduling crunch due to emergencies, McGrath said the town had something to celebrate: it could have been much worse this year.

“Some people are in worse shape than we are because they lost a full week, with Hurricane Sandy,” she said. “With the February blizzard, [some] schools were out five or six days while we were out for two days.”

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