School Com. preserves post-Labor Day school year

Nov 7, 2019 by

Published November 7, 2019


NORTH READING —- School Committee members sent Superintendent Jon Bernard back to the drawing board when they rejected his proposal to have students begin the 2020-2021 school year on Wednesday, September 2, which falls before Labor Day.

As is customary, Bernard presented the proposed calendar for the 2020-2021 school year to the committee at its meeting Monday night.

“It’s that time of year, believe it or not, where we start to bring forward the draft of the calendar for the next school year,” Bernard said. “It’s not all that out of the ordinary, with one exception being that I’m proposing that school start before Labor Day in September, which is not something that has traditionally happened here in North Reading.”

Bernard’s proposal called for school staff to report on Tuesday, September 1 for professional development. Students would attend school on Wednesday and Thursday, September 2 and 3, and then schools would be closed on Friday, September 4 and Monday, September 7 in observance of Labor Day.

“I don’t think that the spirit of this is to do this going forward every year. I think we are looking to do that only because of the lateness of the Labor Day holiday,” Bernard said. “Then I look at the end of the year and I get a little concerned about where we are. We can’t go to school beyond June 30, so if we had a bad winter or other reasons that school had to be canceled and we had to advance that last day, there’s not a lot of wiggle room.”

Bernard’s proposal placed the last day of school on Wednesday, June 24 with five snow days factored in.

According to Bernard, he consulted with the teachers’ union and the administrative council and both groups supported starting the year before Labor Day.

School Committee members voiced concerns over the early start.

“I have some concerns,” School Committee Chairman Scott Buckley said. “I’m opposed to beginning before Labor Day. I would vote against this for that reason. The proposal has us ending on the same day as this year, and I think it could just be pushed back a couple of days.”

Buckley argued that Labor Day has fallen on September 7 before and the district has never moved the first day. He also stated that it is unlikely the district would need to make up more than seven snow days, which would push passed the June 30 end date if the district started after Labor Day.

According to Buckley, vacation plans were also a factor in his decision.

“I think there’s a lot of families that rent homes that rent on the same week every year and some of them do it for Labor Day weekend. I just think it would be a very big inconvenience to the public,” Buckley said.

Committee member Chris Pappavaselio stated that he followed the logic of the proposal, but did not see the need for changing the start date since the district has historically never had more than six snow days.

“Your point is well taken on the snow days. I think I have an obligation to propose what I think is educationally sound, and I think this is an educationally sound decision, much like it was to not do it when a similar situation arose when we were opening (the high school),” Bernard said.

Pappavaselio asked Bernard to elaborate upon reasons, other than snow days, that the district should start before Labor Day.

“We lose a lot of time and kids could be in classes learning. When we are subject to testing, we are behind a little bit. I think with the lateness of the year, that only further exacerbates the problem,” Bernard said. “With state standardized testing or retests that take place as early as November, those kinds of things, the school is (behind). If it were an August 31 (start) I would feel differently, but it’s still September and I thought ‘Let’s see if there’s an appetite for changing it.’”

Committee member Rich McGowan stated that even with 10 months notice, he felt that a significant number of community members would be negatively impacted by the change.

Assistant Superintendent Patrick Daly noted that if the school year extended until June 30, vacation plans could be impacted for the July 4 holiday as well.

“It’s not just the community perception because of vacations,” committee member Dyana Boutwell said. “There’s so many people that are so thankful our school district still starts after Labor Day. As a parent of a child in the schools, I am so grateful that that’s the case, and I never want that to change.”

Buckley noted that he spoke with a teacher in a district that starts before Labor Day, and she reported that the two days were “throw away days,” in her opinion, because they were unproductive.

Will propose Sept. 8 start to union, council

With at least three members of the committee against the change in start date, Bernard and Daly agreed to discuss with the administrative council and teachers’ union the possibility of starting the year on Tuesday, September 8 with a professional development day before Labor Day.

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