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Presidents Day Holiday Cancelled by School Board

Students and staff members will have school on Feb. 18.

School will be open in the School District of the Chathams on Feb. 18, the school board voted Monday.

The 6-2 vote to have school on Presidents Day came after a discussion of the school days missed after Tropical Storm Sandy hit the area.

Schools were closed for a full week after the storm, using up the district's entire reserve of five snow days for the year. Milton Avenue School, Southern Boulevard School and Washington Avenue School remained closed an additional day.

The school was able to schedule two make-up days on Nov. 8 and 9, but this leaves Lafayette Avenue School, Chatham High School and Chatham Middle School with only two snow days for the rest of the year and the K-3 schools with only one snow day.

"The first question is, how many school days does the board want to recapture," Superintendent Michael LaSusa said. "The second question is, what days does it want to take back."

Scheduling extra days of school now, LaSusa said, would put three snow days for the upper schools and two for the lower schools in the bank, in case more extreme weather hits the area.

"Last year, for example, we made up all the days, and then we never had a snow day," LaSusa said.

Major national holidays remaining in the school year include New Year's Eve (Monday, Dec. 31), New Year's Day (a national holiday, Tuesday, Jan. 1), Martin Luther King Day (Monday, Jan. 21), Presidents Day (Monday, Feb. 18) and Memorial Day (Monday, May 27). There is also a week for spring break in March.

"The benefit of scheduling it [earlier rather than later] is, you're capturing days before the snow might hit, whereas if the snow hits in the last week of January and the first two weeks of February, you don't have as many options," LaSusa said.

Parents have already asked the board to preserve spring break for students who wish to tour colleges without falling behind on schoolwork. However, if more school days are required, taking days out of spring break is an option to make up the missed days of school.

For high school students, LaSusa said, "We can make other accommodations" if the district has school over spring break. "We can excuse college visits, or have a moritorium on tests and quizzes."

This move would also affect high school students who wish to take jobs or internships over spring break, and vacations for families.

Another option would be to have some Saturday sessions of school, but LaSusa said this would "disproportionally affect Jewish families" in the district, including students and staff.

Having school on Tuesday, Jan. 1, which is otherwise a national holiday, was another option discussed briefly.

LaSusa said another option, one which he himself did not advocate, was to move graduation to accommodate additional class days. This, too, would affect any summer jobs or internships for high school students. Additionally, Chatham High Principal Darren Groh said, the Chatham High PTO has to schedule Project Graduation a full year in advance, and the date is already locked.

"Obviously every Board of Education is having these kinds of discussions," LaSusa said. Westfield schools, for example, will have a full day of school on Presidents Day and a half-day on Martin Luther King Day. Livingston will have school on Presidents Day.

"I do not believe that it is appropriate on Martin Luther King Day. I believe that is the one symbolic holiday at the current time that I personally would rather stay away from," LaSusa said.

Board Member Matthew Gilfillan said he believed Martin Luther King Day would be better observed by having students in school and learning about the civil rights leader rather than being on vacation.

"In this town, most people [are] somewhere skiing that day. They're not doing Martin Luther King programs. I think the kids benefit much more if we have school that day and spend the day learning about Martin Luther King and what he did for this country," Gilfillan said.

Board Member Al Burgunder disagreed, saying, "I think this is a national holiday for a very important figure." Despite the extreme weather which prompted the discussion in both 2011 and now in 2012, "I think this is not a precendence we should keep going."

Board Member Richard Connors said he believed Presidents Day was a national holiday honoring the nation's leaders and was also deserving of observation similar to Martin Luther King Day. "If we're going to do it, then we should take both," he said, "and save that March holiday [spring break]."

Board President Thomas K. Belding proposed that the board amend the calendar to have a full day of school on Presidents Day, since the board had scheduled school on Martin Luther King Day in 2011. "Why don't we swap those," he said.

Belding moved the board vote to have a full day of school on Presidents Day. The amendment to the school calendar passed 6-0, with Board Members Phil Franz and Kim Cronin abstaining from the vote.

Ron Swanson November 20, 2012 at 07:18 PM
So political correctness rules in the Chatham School District. "I do not believe that it is appropriate on Martin Luther King Day. I believe that is the one symbolic holiday at the current time that I personally would rather stay away from," LaSusa said. Really? And there's nothing symbolic about Presidents Day, which honors some of our nation's greatest leaders such as Lincoln and Washington? Why is it appropriate to cancel President's Day and when did MLK Day trump President's Day in importance? Mr. Gilfillan and Mr. Connors have it exactly right for the reasons they both express, while LaSusa falls into the modern day class of those bending over backwards so as not to "offend" anyone. Get a backbone, LaSusa. There is a business decision to be made here involving taking back a vacation day or two, and both days should be considered. MLK Day should be fair game, especially coming as close as it does to the long Christmas break. To simply write off President's Day as some meaningless holiday that can be sacrificed in the name of political correctness is ridiculous. I guess Chatham's kids can go ahead and purchase those lift tickets to honor Dr. King.
Sir November 20, 2012 at 09:16 PM
They utilized MLK last year as a make up day. Poor and tasteless decision. They made the right move this year.
Hugs November 20, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Larusa can make any decision he wants. I make the final decision on when to send my kids to school. They will be off both holidays!
chatham7 November 21, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Wow Hugs. Real tough talk. If your kids have your attitude I am sure they will not be missed
Julia November 21, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Amen!! I couldn't agree more. Mr. LaSusa's opinion concerning MLK day is indicative of what's wrong with this country. Is he kidding? I hope so because the alternative is shocking. I'd like to know exactly the day that it became illegal to offend anyone? I tell you what, Mr. LaSusa's decision to scrap President's day and keep MLK day offends me greatly...what are you going to do about that, Mr. LaSusa? Hmmmmmm? <crickets>
Julia November 21, 2012 at 04:02 PM
chat5...your nasty attitude trumps Hugs 100%.
James Lowry Jr November 21, 2012 at 04:34 PM
R Swanson and Julia - quick question: do you not think about what MLK day represents to minorities in Chatham or do you not care? Read below a wikipedia definition of MLK day and try to see life through the eyes of others! ====================================== Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a United States federal holiday marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King's birthday, January 15. The floating holiday is similar to holidays set under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, though the act predated the establishment of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by 15 years. King was the chief spokesman for nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. The campaign for a federal holiday in King's honor began soon after his assassination in 1968. Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed on January 20, 1986. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.
Julia November 21, 2012 at 08:17 PM
James - quick answer: I believe Presidents day is just as important as MLK day or any of the other holidays. They are all important - MLK may be more important to you while Presidents day (or any other holiday) may be more important to me. Quick question for you: why is what's more important to you override what's important to me? It offends me that the Presidents Day holiday has been taken away while MLK day stays a holiday. Does it not matter that I'm offended or does it only matter when you're offended? See? This crap about not offending anyone is just that...crap.
James Lowry Jr November 21, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Julia please reread my response above. I never said that I was offended nor did I voice my opinion on what holiday was more important to me. I also did not override your opinion. Quick history lesson: someone who supports MLK more than likely also supports President Lincoln. In other words, both holidays are cherished in my household. Personally, I would have taken a day away from Spring Break instead of canceling MLK day and/or Presidents Day. Have a Happy Thanksgiving Day!
chatham7 November 21, 2012 at 09:50 PM
so, what is the big deal? If you read the last two paragraphs it seems like a compromise (proposal by Mr. Belding) was agreed to 6-2. Last year it was MLK day this year Presidents day. Seems reasonable. End of story. Unless you are Hugs whose kids will miss both days because she can't be told what to do

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