Board of Education Passes 'Compassionate' School Calendar Changes

After the State Board of Education approved an exception for Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown board members passed additional measures and waiver requests to help students and staff.

Students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School and other Newtown public schools will have a shorter and hopefully less stressful spring, thanks to votes Wednesday both in Hartford and at home in Newtown.

The measures were designed to help teachers, administrators, students and others within the Newtown public school system recover after the events of Dec. 14. On Wednesday afternoon, Connecticut's State Board of Education granted unanimous approval to allow Sandy Hook Elementary School to waive a state-mandated minimum of 180 class days over the 2012-2013 school year. The state agreed to allow Newtown to set a 177-day calendar for Sandy Hook Elementary School, which lost six school days after the December tragedy.

The Newtown Board of Education took even further steps Wednesday night, including one that would give three vacation days to Sandy Hook, in what Superintendent Janet Robinson called "a very compassionate move by the board."

State Sen. John McKinney (R-28), who helped draft language allowing the 180-day waiver for Sandy Hook, assured the board they had the state's support.

"It was purposely broad to allow you all the flexibility to do what's right for the kids of Newtown," he told members. "The language requires the State Board of Education to do what they are required by this Board of Education."

The measures would:

  • Add three vacation days -- Wednesday, Thursday and Friday -- to an already-scheduled February vacation for students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, leading to a total of one school week off;
  • Allow staff across the district an additional two days off at their choice (but not in conjunction with existing vacations);
  • Request a similar waiver of the 180-day rule that would allow the entire Newtown school district, not just Sandy Hook Elementary School, to be excepted from minimum state requirements;
  • Keep an existing vacation in April on the calendar; and
  • Request a waiver of the standardized Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), a required test for grades three through eight.

Each measure brought its own share of contention during the meeting, the public portion of which began at 7:30 p.m. at Newtown Municipal Center and ran for well over four hours. (Board members cast a vote to enter a private session to discuss a personnel issue minutes before midnight.) Several measures did not pass unanimously.

"My concern is that we would be opening a door that people would then try to push," said board member Keith Alexander about asking the state for a 180-day waiver for all Newtown schools. Alexander was one of three board members to vote against the measure, along with Richard Gaines and William Hart.
Board chair Debbie Leidlein emphasized there were no plans to take additional days off in schools aside from Sandy Hook, but the waiver would allow leeway in the case of events like severe weather.

"It adds some peace of mind -- to know it exists," she said. "I would prefer to secure it now and use it if we need it"

Robinson warned the board that asking for a waiver on CMTs could lead to complication.

"Just be aware," she said. "The first two weeks of school next year, you may be having to use some kind of standardized test so we have some kind of data on which to measure outcomes."

Leidlein said the tests would only cause added tension in an already difficult school year for students and teachers alike.

"We wouldn't want to use our students as guinea pigs," she said. "The whole testing thing causes anxiety, but we already have a lot of anxiety. I would hate to think we could hurt our students and teachers in a very negative way by keeping this additional anxiety-producing event."

Gaines and Hart voted against asking for the CMT waiver. The Board of Education will meet again Thursday night to continue ongoing budget discussions.

recourses January 25, 2013 at 01:49 PM
The CMTs are not something that need to be "prepared for" in any way. I understand the school schedule conversations, but I don't like the message that the waiver request is sending to the students. It's a baseline test. By asking for a waiver, you are basically saying that these students are still too distraught and incapable of sitting for a standard test? I thought the whole point of recovering was to stay as true to the normal routine as possible.
Karen H January 25, 2013 at 02:58 PM
I attended this BOE meeting. The discussion that occurred was around the stress that these tests put onto the kids and the fact that they would be essentially in "lockdown" while the test is being administered. Many of the students are still recovering and being kept in a classroom for an extended period of time to take a test, may not be possible.
Marilyn January 25, 2013 at 03:09 PM
I hope when they are talking about a waiver for the CMT's they are not including everyone. I made plans to travel in March that purposely don't include my child because of the month long testing. Now they won't be in March? Make an exception for SHES only.
Valerie January 25, 2013 at 03:21 PM
Thanks for clarifying that, Karen. I agree with that position. Staying "normal to routine as possible" does not mean adding stress to students and teachers. I know as a former classroom teacher that there is a lot of stress involved with gearing up students for the CMTs and administering it. I am sure the staff and students could less stress in any capacity this school year.
recourses January 25, 2013 at 04:14 PM
I'm just curious if the teachers in the schools agree with the notion that taking these CMTs will really create any "anxiety" on the kids or the teachers. They are criterion-referenced tests but they are not tests to be "prepared for". I'm just cautioning that it's the adults who are telling the kids that taking these will be too stressful when the kids are probably totally fine with it.
onceuponanewtown January 25, 2013 at 05:00 PM
It seems that you do not have a child that has taken CMT's or understand the pressure put on teachers to cover the material - it takes months to "prepare" them and then they are "strongly" encouraged to do well, equal to or more stressful than finals. These are not the old IOWA tests we are talking about because the results influence school rating and funding. What information are you basing your assumptions on?
recourses January 25, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Look, I do have children that have taken them and am also a former teacher. I understand the point and purpose behind CMTs. I know that they are not a complete breeze. All I'm saying is that we need to exercise caution if we are using the tragedy as an excuse to get out of a test process we don't like to begin with or if the teachers in SHES that are charged with administering the tests truly believe that the students and teachers are not ready for this. Has anyone asked the teachers? I'm not trying to argue with you, I am just wondering if this is coming from one union leader teacher who is not a SHES teacher or is this a call directly from the SHES themselves. If the SHES teachers are pleading for this waiver, then the district absolutely should listen.
Laura Roche January 25, 2013 at 08:31 PM
This was a direct request for SHS by the staff and the admin. It was also requested by several administrators for the district.
KH Parent January 27, 2013 at 11:55 AM
I think people need to take a step back and look at the big picture. What these students and this faculty have gone through cannot be understood by anybody who didn't live through it. If removing a test and adding some days off gives any of them even one ounce less of stress and anxiety, then it is well worth it. Not taking a standardized test is not going to put anyone's educational future in jeopardy. Why shouldn't staff and students in the entire district get a break? Get some extra time to spend with loved ones. We all understand that these times are precious and can be taken away in an instant.
AnotherDay January 29, 2013 at 05:26 PM
My kids came home Monday with the news about the CMTs. Their comment "...you're not going to believe this". Their friends say the same thing. It seems they rarely have a full week of school anymore...and there are so many teachers out every week. Please teach our children and evaluate their progress. Many actually want to learn. The disruption of their schedule is what causes additional stress.
Christine C January 31, 2013 at 05:39 PM
Had there been any consideration to extending the February long weekend for other schools than Sandy Hook? It seems strange to me for some families to have some children home, while having to send others to school. It's a nice opportunity to regroup as a family, spending time together.
Annoyed January 31, 2013 at 05:40 PM
It really isn't stressful to the students as they do prepare well for these. It is the Teachers who are stressed out because they are being help accountable for their kid's scores. The SHS (BTW... it's SHS, not SHES) Teachers do not need that extra stress right now. They are doing an awesome job at trying to get themselves and their kids back into a routine that is whatever the new "normal" will be but at the same time, make sure they do not lose out on keeping up educationally with other children in the District and State so when they move on to the next school, or in the our case a new school (Intermediate) next year they are not "left behind" the other kid's from the other elementary schools.
Annoyed January 31, 2013 at 05:44 PM
Agreed... the extended vacation in February is not necessary. I do think it's a great idea to give the SHS Teachers additional days off as needed, but to give the whole school more vacation days is not getting them back to "normalcy." The hardest time frame many Teachers and kids had was not the immediate week after the shooting but rather the next week off (despite Christmas being during that week) because as the shock and horror began to wear off a bit, they needed their schedule and their camaraderie back and they couldn't have it.
RSD January 31, 2013 at 08:25 PM
I think what is interesting is that the CMT's should not NEED to be prepared for in any way. As a parent of 2 children in Newtown Schools,I know for a fact the instead, all throughout the different levels of the system, the schools "prepare" the kids for days, before the testing, which naturally results in a lot of pressure and is quite stressful for the kids. I feel the schools should announce that the CMT's will occur and tell everyone the schedule and then leave out the rest of their "normal" preparations for these tests. I think the kids would do just fine in that way.


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