To the Editor:
Several individuals have taken to the local media to voice their personal displeasure with the March 27th vote by the Old Rochester Regional Joint School Committee to adopt a school district calendar next year in which school will be in session on Good Friday and there will be no school the half day before Thanksgiving. The essence of their opposition is that such a school calendar infringes on their faith by having schools open on Good Friday. Determining which days should be school days or vacation days should be viewed through the lens of what will provide the highest quality education for all students in the tri-town, as should all decisions made by our elected school committees. This, of course, should go without saying, but in the event some committee members need reminding of this, the following information should be considered should the joint school committee decide to revisit this issue.
The day before Thanksgiving is inarguably one of the busiest travel days of the entire year, and quite possibly the busiest travel day occurring during the school year. According to data provided by the ORR Superintendent’s office, district student attendance figures bear this out. Over the past five years, the average daily student absentee rate across the district’s six schools was 4.6%, while the average absentee rate on the day before Thanksgiving was 9.4%, more than double the daily rate. In fact, among the six district schools, over the past five years the average daily absentee rate has ranged from 2.9% to 5.9%, while the absentee rate on the day before Thanksgiving has ranged from 5.8% to a whopping 17.7%. With such a high absentee rate on the day before Thanksgiving, the joint school committee was right to reconfigure the school calendar the way they did.
What has been conspicuously absent from the commentary of those opposed to the new calendar is any mention of the new calendar’s impact on effective student instruction time. It is even more disappointing to read the comments of some school committee members opposed to the new calendar who equally failed to give any consideration to the new calendar’s beneficial impact on student instruction time. By holding classes on Good Friday and giving students the day off on a day with historically high absenteeism, the new school calendar will result in an increase in the amount of effective instructional class time. The half-day before Thanksgiving is not the most productive day for instructional time due to the higher number of absent students as well as the various extracurricular activities that often take place that day. Switching the half-day before Thanksgiving for a full day of classes on Good Friday will net valuable additional time spent focused on the curriculum.
Despite the hyperbolic claims of some, the adoption of the new school calendar is not “an attack on Christians.” On the contrary, those committee members who voted in favor of the new calendar did exactly what they were elected to do, which is to adopt school policies and procedures that will provide the best possible academic environment for all students.
With regard to the assertions that having school on Good Friday will lead to significant increases in the substitute teacher budget, fortunately we have the benefit of looking to the experience of the nearby Bourne Public School system, where school has been in session on Good Friday since 2000. According to Bourne Superintendent Steven M. Lamarche, of the approximately 300 school department staff, only one teacher and two paraprofessionals requested Good Friday off this year. There is simply no evidence to suggest that the ORR district should expect a different experience than Bourne.
Many tri-town residents moved to this area because of the high quality of the education provided by the ORR district schools. The excellent education our children receive here is due in no small part to the decisions made by our school committees, and it is reasonable to expect that those decisions are and will be made with the best interests of our children in mind. Residents also expect that our school committee members will inform themselves with all pertinent information when considering all issues that affect the quality of our children’s education. The school committee’s mission is to create a school system that is conducive to the full academic growth of all students. This school calendar issue should not be viewed as a religious or political issue, but rather simply an educational one.
Shaun P. Walsh, Marion
The views expressed in the “Letters to the Editor” column are not necessarily those of The Wanderer, its staff or advertisers. The Wanderer will gladly accept any and all correspondence relating to timely and pertinent issues in the great Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester area, provided they include the author’s name, address and phone number for verification. We cannot publish anonymous, unsigned or unconfirmed submissions. The Wanderer reserves the right to edit, condense and otherwise alter submissions for purposes of clarity and/or spacing considerations. The Wanderer may choose to not run letters that thank businesses, and The Wanderer has the right to edit letters to omit business names. The Wanderer also reserves the right to deny publication of any submitted correspondence.