To the Editor:
I’ve just had the opportunity to view the ORR Joint School Committee meeting held on June 2, 2014, where the issue of Good Friday was discussed and voted on. It’s available at ORCTV (http://orctv.org/) in its entirety on the VIMEO channel (cable stations may not show the entire meeting). For those who haven’t viewed it, I’d like to summarize what I saw so that others can form their own opinions.
The Joint Committee had previously voted in March to have school on that day, which has traditionally been a day away from school since the school system was established. This new vote on June 2nd was whether to change the original vote and instead have Good Friday as a day off. The vote went against the opinions of many in our community, which was to continue with no school that day. It was truly an eye-opener for me to see how this decision was made. Sadly, it was painfully obvious that there are personal agendas (from a select few Committee members) involved in making this change, which in my opinion have no place in a democratically elected role.
There were several speakers who made some very good points. One take-away was that the Committee had not performed due diligence before coming to the original decision. A reasonable and informed process could not be carried out because data didn’t exist on how this would affect the community, how many teachers could be expected to ask for the day off as personal time, how many students would not attend that day, what the statistics were from other school systems who have dealt with this issue, etc. The original decision was pushed forward without any facts on how this would affect the community.
Interestingly, at this meeting, some unofficial data was presented which the Committee chose to ignore. I heard some statistics about the Bourne public school system – the fact that they have had classes on Good Friday for some time, and that only three persons took the day off last year. It was mentioned that Bourne has a parochial school system, which would have an effect on those numbers. There were no other school systems discussed to my knowledge.
Maggie McGee from Rochester and other representatives from Marion and Mattapoisett had gathered about 700 signatures from people in the community opposed to this change, and it was also dismissed out-of-hand since it wasn’t an official poll and the signatures couldn’t be verified. I found that to be extremely insulting to those that worked very hard in gathering this data. One can only imagine how many more people would have signed the petition if they had the opportunity. The fact that so many people went out of their way to do this should speak volumes, but again some members of the Committee ignored it.
The suggestion was made that the school calendar for this coming year should include Good Friday off in order to provide more time to gather data, and the issue be revisited for calendar year 2015-2016. This was an excellent suggestion, but it would have placed the personal agendas of some members of the Committee at risk, and wasn’t voted on.
There were many comments from various Committee members stating they were interested in “what was best for the children” which I found to be entirely false. The decision to have the full day off before Thanksgiving was based on low attendance (I believe it was stated that 17% of students take the half-day off) , meaning not much learning takes place. And, statistics from the principals of a couple of the schools stated that in their very recent polls of teachers, 25% admitted they would not attend school on Good Friday. (One can only guess how many didn’t want to admit this to their bosses but will do so anyway.) So, this same logic was put aside in the interest of personal agendas.
The increased cost to the district for substitute teachers was also put aside. With many teachers taking the day, it would prove to be an unreasonable, expensive change to the school calendar. I believe the budgets are difficult enough as it is without wasting money.
Someone stated that federal law does not prevent school districts from closing school on certain days, depending on the needs and wants of the particular community. I also didn’t hear any opinions from lawyers who could explain what the federal and state laws have to say on this subject. It would seem that the Committee would want to get some expert legal advice before making this kind of decision.
Last but not least, our own Superintendent, Doug White, cautioned the Committee in the strongest but most polite terms, that school safety is a definite concern if many teachers take the day off. To go against his recommendation makes no logical sense.
I hate to say this, but this certainly seems to be a power issue, with some stubbornness and dare I say, arrogance, on the part of some Committee members. To dismiss the concerns of the community who elected them is not what the members were elected to do. With this in mind, I have strong concerns about how other issues will be handled in the future. I propose that we all remember this at election time.
I will not be sending my daughter to school on Good Friday, and I hope others do the same. We need to send a message to the elected members of our Committee that the opinions of their constituents, school principals, teachers and Superintendent count. This was an important decision that should have been handled in a democratic way.
Susan Bruce, Rochester
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