By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — The School Committee voted to open up Andover High for Saturday classes yesterday, joining an already scheduled school day on Good Friday. But it took an hour of debate for the board to settle by a 3-2 majority on how to handle the situation in the least inconvenient way possible.
Schools region-wide are grappling with a form of snow daze, where school days lost this academic year to winter weather and Hurricane Sandy have left many school district calendars with more days to make up than options for dealing with them.
The last day the schools can be open is Friday, June 28, as stipulated by the Andover teacher’s contract with the department. More makeup days were needed before Tuesday’s snow day, and the committee voted 4-1 last week to open schools up for a half-day only on Good Friday, March 29.
That decision was revisited yesterday due to the extra snow day.
The School Committee has had a wealth of options to consider — school on Saturdays, take away April vacation days, or use Good Friday — with no “good decisions” available, committee Chairwoman Paula Colby-Clements said.
“None of the decisions are good decisions. We’ve talked about how, no matter what the decision is, we’re going to impact somebody, somehow,” she said.
Concerns for holding school on Good Friday have centered mostly on using a town-recognized religious day to hold even a half day of school.
Officials noted last week that school would be out by the time the religious observance period of 12 to 3 p.m. began.
Since then, 48 staff members put in notices to take the day off for religious observance by Wednesday’s deadline to do so. Of those, 28 substitute teachers were needed, and the district was able to fill every spot, Superintendent Marinel McGrath said.
In the wake of the committee’s decision, little feedback has come in to the committee’s members, giving Colby-Clements the indication that the committee’s prior decision was a sound one.
“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.”
Town Moderator Sheila Doherty said she was an advocate “that we not go down the road of using Good Friday. As a community, Andover has always respected the holy days of its citizens.”
Andover Education Association President Kerry Costello, representing the districts teachers, nurses and other school staff, said that Andover’s school system has held classes on one Good Friday in the past, so no precedent was being established by doing it this year.
Meanwhile, the discussion was losing sight of the other religions that “get left aside” in their holidays, according to Costello.
“We need to be cognizant that there are other religions that celebrate holidays that aren’t given any exception,” she said. “The Greek Orthodox, they celebrate Good Friday — but not on March 29 — and we could go down the list of other religions.”
Another option discussed by the committee was opening up April vacation days to school. That option was viewed as an unpopular alternative for many.
While little feedback came in on using Good Friday as a make-up day, member Annie Gilbert forecast that a torrent of complaints would come in from affected families if the committee took away vacation days.
“Our in-boxes would be full,” she said. “There would be a big backlash, because people have made plans, teachers have made plans, families have made plans.”
Also complicating the matter was the fact that West Middle School is scheduled to undergo prep work for a future construction project that will require the school be closed to the public, according to McGrath.
When it came time to vote, committee members David Birnbach and Dennis Forgue both opposed holding school on Good Friday. Their dissenting votes left the board in a 3-2 split on the decision, with the majority narrowly winning out.
Both indicated that their preferred alternative was to hold school on two Saturdays instead of one Saturday and a religious holiday.
With the votes, Andover public school calendars have seen the following adjustments:
ELEMENTARY, MIDDLE SCHOOLS (includes Shawsheen School, a choice school): School to be held on Good Friday, March 29. Final day of school will be held Friday, June 28.
ANDOVER HIGH SCHOOL: School to be held on Good Friday, March 29, as well as Saturday, April 27. Final day of school will be held Friday, June 28.