Greenwich Board of Education Votes on End-of-Year School Calendar, GHS Graduation

The Board of Education voted on the end of year calendar during their meeting on Thursday night.

Though typically there would be a first read followed by a second read and vote, the board decided to suspend their rules, and voted after the first read because families were trying to make their summer plans.

The issue was that there were five weather-related closures this year, plus two days in December 2021 when GHS was closed due to a spike in Covid cases.

That extended the end of school for GHS students to June 28, which was an issue for students who are starting jobs or camp, for example.

“We’re working with the administration to make sure that finals are done the prior week, and those last two days are important, but we recognize perhaps not everyone shows up,” said BOE chair Kathleen Stowe on Friday morning on WGCH.

At the meeting, teacher union president Lil Perrone asked that the last three days at GHS (24, 27 and 28) all be early release, “so that staff can clean up and close,” but the board voted that only the 27 and 28 be early release days.

PTAC president Mimi Duff, representing the 15 school PTAs, said she’d spoken to many parents about the last day of school being on the 28th.

“I’m hearing the current GHS last day of school as June 28th is causing a lot of problems for students who have committed to summer work, enrichment and volunteer programs, many of which had application deadlines far in the past, and where the students have made commitments. We hope the district can reach a reasonable resolution,” Duff said.

Duff also said she was disappointed that the BET would not allow families to testify at their March 28 public hearing via Zoom. (It is set up to be watch only on Zoom).

“Those that can’t be there in person cannot add to the conversation,” she said. “These are elected officials and this is meant to be a public comment meeting. I really really hope that all those who have shown up to voice strong opinions about the need for public comment at these BOE meetings show up there, in person, and at least voice concerns about possibly silencing our taxpayers.”

(UPDATED: Residents Unhappy BET Public Hearing on March 28 Lacks Option to Participate Through Zoom)

Dr. Toni Jones, Superintendent of Greenwich Schools said she was thrilled to have gotten a legal opinion about being able to change graduation to make it earlier (June 23). She said she’d spoken to GHS Principal Mayo and Vice Principal Dana Tulotta about how they would use the 27th and 28th.

“They’re planning on doing, on the 27th, ‘a celebration of moving up to the next level.’ So, for juniors, that’s kind of their official class of 2023,” she said. “They did this last year and had some events for students that were really fun and made it kind of a coming together.”

“The 28th, the last day of school, it really doesn’t change from what they always do. It’s more checking back in, checking with teachers, checking on grades,” Jones added.

As for how the school would handle absences, Jones said, “When you hit number 10 (absences), usually you get those letters in the email. They are very accustomed at the end of the year to having families leave early. That is not new for them. They said, ‘We already have a solid process.’ We discussed, ‘What about a higher volume this year?’ because it is that much later. They were not concerned about that at all. They understand they’ll have students who are supposed to be at their job or summer camps, students traveling to do mission work and all kinds of things.”

“That is not unusual for them. It’s just a higher volume,” she said, adding that exams will have already taken place in the previous week.

Board member Christina Downey said it was unfortunate the state did not give a waiver for the end of year calendar.

“It’s a difficult position we’re in,” she said. “It’s the lesser of two evils. It’s this versus taking a couple days out in April (vacation). I’m sure there are people feeling strongly one way or the other. We’re never going to make everyone happy.”

Dr. Jones said a relevant state law had changed in 2019. “We really haven’t used it because we were in Covid. In the past, we could not set graduation before we knew … 180th day of school, which this year, for high school, would have been (June) 28th or 180 days.”

“But I wanted to reach out to the school law attorney, who definitely understands this much better than anybody at the state. The opinion is, the way the law changed is that once you get past April 1, we can go ahead and have a graduation date, and we can even do it for next year, and get in front of it, by changing the language on next year’s calendar.”

“Where it gets a little tricky is if you ask the CT Dept of Education, it’s how they count attendance after graduation. They would say, ‘Your seniors are supposed to be on site.’ Our seniors aren’t on site anyway. They’re all out on internships for the last portion of high school. So it really doesn’t impact us. It could impact other districts more so.”

“With the new law, you can graduate before the 180th day, that’s really the clarifying point. And the way our calendar was posted, we’re definitely okay on that piece,” Jones added.

Board member Karen Hirsh said, “It was always well known to the district that when five built-in snow days were exceeded, the district would reduce days from the April break.”

“I’m just curious, especially since it’s two days, why we’re looking at adding days in June, and looking for ‘fun days’ and half-days as opposed to considering putting two days back into the April break where we arguably have a large percentage of high school athletes who can’t travel anyway, and actually gaining those days back as academic days, especially for students in AP courses who have really lost a lot of ground with the snow days…They have to figure out how to get all that education in before those tests in May. I’m curious why we’re not considering that as something that’s written on the calendar.”

“From my perspective, I don’t see this like a normal year,” Dr. Jones replied. “I look at Good Friday and Easter. There are so many families that are traveling who haven’t seen family in two years. Some of them are going out of the country. They have to book that early.”

“I worry on several fronts. I worry about the mental health of the teacher who feels like, ‘I need to cancel my trip. I’m going to have to stay,'” Jones continued. “It really is challenging now. I don’t think people realize we’re not completely out of (the pandemic). I worry about that. I worry about having such a high absenteeism rate that we have kids sitting in a cafeteria like this (Cos Cob School cafeteria where the BOE meeting was held).”

“Our subs are probably traveling too,” she said. “On a good Friday, right now we have over 100 teachers out. On a bad Friday, or a bad Wednesday, it’s going to be a lot more than that. …I do think it’s different coming out of Covid.”

“We can cut from April,” Ms Hirsh said. “We knew far from advance that we were inching up on those days. Not that I want to be the most unpopular board member, but I want to focus on the fact that we do need to make sure these students are getting where they need to be before their finals, before their APs, and before they go out on their awesome student internships for seniors.”

“I just weigh the difference between two half fun days in June when nobody will be there,” she added.

“The reality is there are many who do have vacations planned,” BOE chair Kathleen Stowe said. “While not a perfect situation, we need to continue to talk to our State Reps about the fact that we have the tools on days to teach remotely, and those days should count, and then we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

“We should at least take a few pages from Covid and some of the positives that came out of that,” she added. “We really improved our ability to teach remotely. While not perfect, but it would have been a nice thing to have done this year, but it just wasn’t allowed.”

End of Year Calendar

• June 27 and 28, last two days of school at GHS. Both days will be early release days.

• June 24 is last day for everyone else, except 6th graders

• June 23 is the last day for 6th graders, who started school a day earlier than others this year

• June 23 is Greenwich High School graduation