As you are aware, the School Committee recently accepted my recommendation to amend the school calendar to add this coming Friday, March 30th as an early release school day and April 19 & 20 as full school days. This first-ever mid-stream change to the school calendar was necessitated by the nine school closure days I have called (so far…) this year. The options available to the district were limited given the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) long-standing statutory requirements that districts provide 180 school days and a minimum number of hours of instruction. In Massachusetts, unlike our neighbors to the north, there has been no opportunity to add minutes/hours on to a school week in exchange for waiving whole school days.
This past weekend, DESE distributed a memorandum to superintendents that informed us that the Department was reversing/amending its previous mandates and would accept proposals to address the extraordinary winter weather with alternatives that included proposals for altering a district’s weekly schedule in exchange for waiving the 180-day mandate. I have been engaged in conversations with the principals and the leadership of collective bargaining groups for the past few days to discuss this new, late hour change in DESE’s position and how it could possibly be applied in Dracut.
If this possibility had existed just a week ago, my approach would have been different than it was. Facing a June 29 end of school, a date that did not allow for the potential of any further cancellations, options were painfully limited. Districts like Dracut, who acted proactively under the existing requirements are now faced with having to consider whether to amend calendars for a second time or stay with their original alternative plans.
As the administration is already well underway in logistical planning for the existing amended schedule, and employees have already made personal arrangements, it would be difficult to make any further alterations. Given the new reality of expanded opportunities (frankly, a rather frustrating opportunity, given the timing of DESE’s notice to superintendents), I am obliged to at least consider alternative options, if for no other reason than to provide me with information to address this in the future. I have created a 2-question survey to capture feedback from parents (employees are participating in a separate survey). I would appreciate it if parents would take a minute to respond to the additional possible (DESE would need to approve any request for a waiver) opportunities available to districts. The parent survey can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/QQZZYQQ
I will be reviewing the data collected and providing the School Committee with feedback and recommendations.