Makeup days spoil Spring Break plans

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April 4-6 to be used as makeup days; Last day of school June 2

By Stevie Lowery

The Marion County Board of Education voted 4 to 1 to use the first three days of Spring Break as makeup days during its regular monthly meeting Tuesday evening, Feb. 22.

So far, the Marion County Public System has missed 15 days because of inclement weather. By using the first three days of Spring Break (April 4-6) and carving the number of instructional days down from 177 to 174, the last day of school for students will be Thursday, June 2 (if no other days are missed). The last day for teachers will be Friday, June 3. However, teachers (including certified and classified staff) will be required to attend three days of professional development.

The board was not unanimous in its decision to use the first three days of Spring Break as makeup days, however. Board member Mike Cecil voted no, while Michael Mullins, Ed Hacker, DeLane Pinkston and Bernard Miles voted yes.

Last year, the board promised, in writing, that this year's Spring Break would not be affected. In fact, the minutes from the April 27, 2010 meeting state, "Note that none of Spring Break 2011 has been delineated as make-up days, therefore according to how many snow/emergency days the district needs to make up in the 2010-11 school year there is the possibility that school can extend into the month of June."

Because that "promise" was made last year, many families made plans for this year's Spring Break. Christy and Terry Heck, whose daughter is a sophomore at Marion County High School, have plans to travel to Florida to visit family during Spring Break and they explained their situation at last week's board meeting.

"Last year, it was in the newspaper that Spring Break would absolutely not be taken away. It was guaranteed," Christy Heck said.

Still leery about the situation, Christy Heck said she called the Board of Education office three times to be certain that Spring Break would not be taken away before she made her travel arrangements.

"Each time I was told 'it was written last year. It absolutely will not be taken away,'" she said. "Every step of the way, if at any point someone had said there is a possibility, but that's not what was said to me."

So, Christy and Terry Heck purchased plane tickets for their trip to Florida, and the next week, found out that the school board was considering using Spring Break as makeup days. Christy Heck said her daughter has never missed a day of school and has already said she's not going to put her perfect attendance record in jeopardy to go on the trip to Florida with her family.

"Someone made a promise, and now you want to take it away," she said.

"You broke your promise," Christy's husband, Terry, said.

Board Chairman Mullins said he empathized with their situation and knew they weren't the only ones with this predicament.

"If we use three days of Spring Break there has to be some way we can work with these students who are going to be absent as far as it not counting against them," he said.

Judy Gaddie, director of pupil personnel, said excused absences for the purpose of "educational enhancement" can be granted in order for a student to pursue an opportunity that the local school administrator determines to be of significant educational value. A student receiving an excused absence to pursue an educational enhancement opportunity will be considered present in school during the excused absence. But, Gaddie said the school district has already been warned not to overuse or abuse that option.

"They are warning us that when we're audited that this will be looked at and we have to have extensive documentation to prove that it was, in fact, an educational trip," she said.

Mullins said the board needed to take responsibility for what has happened.

"A statement was made that should have never been made," he said.

But, according to Pinkston, who was adamant last year that Spring Break not be used for makeup days, "boards change."

"Sometimes boards make decisions that they can't keep. This is one of them," he said. "That statement was made. There is no doubt about it. But, that board can't guarantee that because that board is not intact."

Terry Heck asked if he could address the board.

"What are we teaching our kids?" he said. "If you give, and then you take away... so we're teaching our kids that that's ok? I don't think that's ok."

Terry Heck left the room and there was no more discussion before the board voted and ultimately decided to use three days of Spring Break as makeup days.

Editor's note: St. Augustine Grade School will be off the entire week of Spring Break (April 4-8). To make up for the missed school days, St. A is starting its school days 15 minutes earlier each day. It will dismiss for the last day of school Friday, May 27, at 1 p.m.