By Dustin Luca
---- — Students throughout Andover’s public schools will have a half-day of school on Good Friday, March 29, to guarantee that 180 days of class are held by the end of the year.
With five snow days in the books after last week’s snow storm, students throughout the town’s elementary and middle schools were facing having their last day of school on Friday, June 28. That is the last possible day school can be held as scheduled, according to Superintendent Marinel McGrath.
But a gas leak at Andover High School this past January gave that school six days to reschedule, forcing the School Committee to add a day to the calendar at an emergency meeting held last night.
With the vote, provided no further days are lost to inclement weather or emergencies that take any of the schools offline for a day, the high school’s last day of school will be Friday, June 28. The town’s nine elementary and middle schools will hold their last day of classes on Thursday, June 27.
The decision to hold classes on a religious holiday was not an easy one for the committee to make, they said, but because the school day is only half a day, it still allows religious families to observe the holiday, according to McGrath.
“We can have a half-release day and people can still fulfill their religious observances, because in the Christian faiths, between 12 and 3 o’clock are the main times that people would need to observe,” McGrath said.
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 as well. School staff are able to put in for a religious observance for Good Friday, and they have until Wednesday to do so, according to McGrath.
“If in fact we don’t have enough teachers, then we have to default to April 27th,” she said.
The proposal wasn’t universally popular, with member David Birnbach opposing the use of Good Friday for school.
Birnbach said he preferred a full day of school on a Saturday instead of using a religious holiday at all.
“We’ve said in the past that we have certain whole days (off) because of religious reasons, and I think for me, those are black and white — we’re doing them, or not,” he said. “If we have alternatives — which you do, which is Saturday — I’d rather go Saturday.”
But for member Annie Gilbert, there is no universally acceptable solution to the problem.
“It’s kind of impossible to make a decision that isn’t going to impact people or inconvenience people,” she said.
Another option the school could take would be to reduce the district’s spring vacation week, planned for the middle of April.
The options for school on Saturday are limited, however, because of the high school is being used as an SAT testing center and other weekend-only conflicts like May and June graduations, McGrath said.
They may have to rely on those options, however. As McGrath put it, “we have a lot of spring to get through.”
School Committee Chairwoman Paula Colby-Clements raised the same concern as well, albeit in a light-hearted manner.
“This only solves our immediate problem. Let’s hope there’s no more,” she said. “If Mother Nature is listening, whatever the vote is, we’re all set with natural occurrences. A little light rain here and there to keep the plants going — that will be good.”