Clifton School District Advisory Committee Works to Shorten School Year
One of the main duties of district superintendent Dr. Danny Robertozzi is to make recommendations to our Board of Education (BOE). They in turn have the power to vote on those recommendations and to either act on them or reject them. Typically by the time Dr. Robertozzi brings a recommendation to the full Board, a subcommittee has already indicated support, so most of his recommendations ultimately are approved.
In an effort to address the ongoing challenges of the length of our school year, Dr. Robertozzi put together a temporary advisory committee to discuss the district calendar. He reached out to a diverse group of stakeholders which included parents, HSA leaders, staff members, administrators, and students. He also invited community members who had specifically reached out either to him directly or to the BOE regarding concerns with the district calendar. This administrative advisory committee has met twice and Dr. Robertozzi expects to meet once more to finalize his recommendations before he officially presents them for a vote.
Clifton’s public schools, like many of New Jersey’s, tend to be in session quite late, often reaching into the fourth week of June. In addition to the heat of summer, an issue that will be addressed by new HVAC in the coming years thanks to the successful bond referendum, this can create scheduling problems for some families. Many summer programs (and summer jobs) begin earlier in the season and some college programs have summer orientations which start in June, making the end of the school year tricky for some CHS seniors.
The big question for the committee was regarding how to treat religious holidays. The current calendar includes five days off for non-federally recognized religious observances - Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali, Holy Friday, and Eid al-Fitr. Eliminating them would have shortened the school year by a full week. Some committee members argued that, given the diversity of our city, it was unreasonable to close schools for every significant holy day to our community but picking and choosing which ones was not a good plan either. They said that our current approach, coupled with several long breaks during the year, caused our schools to remain open for far too long into June.
Ultimately the committee agreed that the most fair option would be to close schools only when the holiday in question would jeopardize the district’s ability to staff them. However, the committee also supported a strong and enforced policy across the district that ensures that any student who was absent due to a religious observance would not be penalized for that absence. The state of New Jersey publishes a list of approved days that would exempt a student from school. In addition, teachers would be instructed not to test on those days, nor on the day immediately after, as students who were observing a holy day would not be studying or doing homework during their absence.
In addition to the five religious days, this year’s calendar includes three days off in early November and five days off for Presidents’ Day. Shortening both of these breaks could reduce the school year by another full week. If these changes were in place this year, school could end as early as June 9.
Although the discussion was primarily focused on district calendars moving forward, starting with school year 2023-24, the topic of Juneteenth did come up for the current year. Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of African-American slaves in the United States and started in Texas, where the months-earlier Emancipation Proclamation was slow to go into effect.
The 2022-23 calendar had been voted on before this holiday had been acknowledged as a federally-recognized one and is not listed as a day when schools will be closed. Dr. Robertozzi expressed concern about this but also pointed out that there was only one snow day allotted for on the calendar. The state mandates that there be a minimum of 180 days of student contact in every school year. If the district changes the calendar to add Juneteenth as a day off, the district will lose that single snow day to cover it, putting school breaks in jeopardy if schools close for any unexpected reasons and need to make up those days.
The committee suggested, as an alternative to closing, using Juneteenth as a day to educate the district’s students on the history and impact of this holiday. Dr. Robertozzi said that any student who wished to observe this holiday with their family would have that absence excused with a parent or guardian’s note.
The superintendent briefly addressed the matter of snow days. NJ S4200, a bill that would allow for districts to use virtual instruction on days that would otherwise be closed as snow days, stalled last year. Currently the law says that this option can only be utilized if schools have to be closed for three or more days in a row.
Dr. Robertozzi said, “I would recommend to the Board of Education that we keep one or two snow days in the district calendar because it's a rite of passage for kids growing up. In addition, most staff appreciate and enjoy a snow day too. However, any days that we would need to utilize more than the built-in snow days would be virtual. Again, this is only if the law changes and we would have to consider storms where there are power outages that might impact a student's ability to get online.”
The committee is expected to meet once more to finalize the superintendent’s recommendations before he presents them to the Board of Education for a vote. In the meantime, the superintendent is requesting community feedback. If you’d like to offer yours, here is the survey link.
The Board of Education will next meet on Thursday, September 22nd in the basement of the Board of Education building at 745 Clifton Avenue.