City snubs teacher request for day off before holiday break
Almost 25,000 people are asking the Department of Education to reconsider opening schools on Dec. 23.
A little over a week before classes begin, teachers and parents are fuming over the city’s inaction in eliminating a school day that they consider a “waste.”
Almost 25,000 people are calling on the New York City Department of Education and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza to cancel school on Monday, Dec. 23 — the sole school day before a one-week vacation.
“I think it’s very Grinch-ish,” Erica Pantano, a school aide at McKinley Junior High School told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Pantano — a single mom with three children in elementary, middle and high school — said that, while her family in Long Island has the day off, she and her kids will be stuck at school.
“I think that Christmas is a time for family, when people come together — and I think that some families travel to do that. This day of school hinders those families’ travel plans,” she told the Eagle. “It also hinders those students who might be shooting for perfect attendance or maybe they just don’t want to miss a day of school, but their parents have already booked a trip. Meanwhile, my children and I are starting our celebrations a little later because I just can’t take off.”
A petition launched in May by Movement of Rank and File Educators (the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers) charges that, the last four times Dec. 23 has fallen on a Monday, there has been no school. But, according to the DOE’s 2019-2020 calendar, winter recess is scheduled to start on Tuesday, Dec. 24, with classes to resume the following Thursday, Jan. 2.
Organizers say the one-day week would be counter-productive for both students and staff.
“The day after the calendar came out, that’s all my co-workers were talking about,” Rosie Frascella, the MORE member who started the petition, told the Eagle. “Everyone was super frustrated.”
Having the day off would give kids the opportunity to spend time together out of school and families the chance to get away, she said, adding that not having the day off might negatively impact the schools themselves. “We get punished for not having good attendance,” she said, stressing that she and her colleagues believe that the DOE is using the day as a “space-holder.”
A school district will lose part of its federal funding for each day it is short of 180 instructional days. The petition argues that, this coming school year, teachers will be working a total of 186 days — four of them for parent-teacher conferences. That leaves two days for the DOE to play with (which often end up being used as snow days).
While she applauds recent additions to the school calendar like Eid and Lunar New Year, Frascella, an English teacher at International High School in Prospect Heights, told the Eagle she’d rather give up a snow day or work a holiday like Columbus Day than come in on Dec. 23.
“There are many days off that I feel like maybe we could swap,” she said. “I would much rather come to school than celebrate a man who essentially committed genocide.”
Decisions like these should also have more input from stakeholders, Frascella said. “This should be a decision that parents and students and staff should have a say in, and not one that’s negotiated in closed doors.”
“It’s hard around the holidays to create consistency — especially when there’s a one-day week,” Frascella added. “Students are not going to be able to focus on school, and it’s not like we’re going to be able to start a new lesson or concept — especially when it’s a Monday.”
“Every year, we work toward a calendar that meets the needs of students and families, while taking into account holidays and the potential for snow days,” DOE spokesperson Miranda Barbot told the Eagle, further noting that the holiday recess, as it stands, is the usual seven days. “The 2019-20 school year calendar is no different.”
Frascella believes that when school starts next week, officials at the International High School will get together to try and make a push of their own. “We’re allowed to make calendar changes as a school, but many times DOE rejects those changes if they’re too close to a break,” she explained, “so as a school, we may come together with our students and our staff and vote on this ourselves. But they’re more than likely going to reject it.”
Still, supporters are holding out hope for the extra holiday.
“I hope that the DOE’s Grinch heart will grow three sizes this year and that we’ll all be off on the 23rd,” Pantano said.
By Monday morning, MORE’s petition had more than 24,000 signatures. Its goal is 25,000.
Correction (5:34 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jan. 2, 2020 falls on a Wednesday. It falls on a Thursday.
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