SCHOOL COMMITTEE NEWS: April Vacation In Limbo, Parents Asked For Feedback

WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington School Committee had a lengthy discussion at last night’s meeting weighing the pros and cons of keeping April vacation, eliminating April vacation, or enacting a hybrid option with some days on and same days off that week.

Ultimately, the School Committee decided to take no action, ask the district to quickly survey parents and guardians, and reconvene early next week to make their decision.

Superintendent Brand began the discussion by noting the state’s Education Commissioner left the decision to alter April vacation with local school districts. He noted that the Monday of April vacation week is Patriots Day, a state holiday, and would need to be taken off, so the Committee is dealing with 4 days, not 5 days. Brand emphasized that the state’s requirement of 180 days of instruction would still prevail, regardless of any adjustment to April vacation, and that the district does not have to make up any days missed due to the COVID-19 crisis once the Governor ordered all schools to close.

Assistant Superintendent Paul Ruggiero further explained that Wilmington’s current last day of school is June 19. That date represents 5 built-in “snow days.” Wilmington had snow days on December 2, December 3, and December 17, plus closures on March 12 and March 13 at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis but prior to the Governor’s order.

“The June 19 date includes 4 days of vacation during April break. If, as a district, the decision was made to convert any one of those 4 vacation days to a school day, that would [affect] our end of school. If 1 day is changed, then the last day of school would be June 18. If we [changed] all 4 vacation days to school days, then our last school day would be June 15,” added Ruggerio. 

School Committee members discussed their options.

“We went a good deal of time without offering remote learning. I think people are eager to work through April vacation,” said School Committee Vice Chair Steve Bjork. “But I see the other side of it. Assuming we’re able to get back into the buildings at all, every day we spend in the building is far more valuable than remote learning. I would hate to get back into the buildings at some point in May, and get out on June 15 as opposed to June 19.”

“That was my thinking as well,” agreed School Committee member David Ragsdale. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. If we do get back to school on May 4, we will have been out for 7 weeks, plus a couple of days. There would be another 7 weeks of school left until June 19. We may not be back on May 4, however. I’d hate to lose any in-person days if we actually think there’s any reasonable possibility that we get back into schools before the end of the year. The in-person days will be a lot more valuable than the remote learning days. Of course, we don’t know if we’re going to actually do that, so that’s why it’s a hard decision.”

“It’s kind of hard to make a decision without knowing if we’re going back to school,” agreed School Committee member Jo Newhouse. “We’re just getting in the remote learning this week. Next week will be a full week, and then we’d be off again. There would be no consistency for the kids, families and teachers.”

“I’m in agreement with Steve Bjork and David Ragsdale, but I hear the other side too,” responded School Committee Chair Jennifer Bryson. “We’ve just had so much time that’s been somewhat unstructured. This week, we’re still figuring it all out and ironing out the kinks. I wonder if there’s not a compromise we can make. We definitely have the Monday off. Maybe we take the Friday off that week, but have school during the middle of the week? It might make sense for help us keep some consistency…. I could go either way.”

“I like idea of splitting it down the middle,” agreed School Committee member MJ Byrnes.’

“Some districts are talking about a hybrid approach — take some days off and have some days for learning,” said Superintendent Brand. “What makes this difficult is not knowing our final fate in terms of whether we’re returning to school or not.”

Brand noted has had an initial discussion with the President of the Wilmington Teachers Association and has reason to believe changes to April vacation would be worked on. Many staff have reportedly indicated a preference to “press on” and eliminate April vacation.

“Gathering feedback would be helpful in rendering this decision,” agreed Byrnes, who also noted that – as someone who works in a hospital – she sincerely doubts schools will reopen on May 4.

“I hope I’m sincerely wrong, but I don’t see us starting back on May 4,” she added.

The School Committee asked the Superintendent to send out a survey to solicit feedback from the school community. The Committee will then reconvene early next week — Monday or Tuesday — at a special meeting to make their decision.

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