1 in 3 RI school districts have shortened February vacation

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – The Warwick public school system is joining a growing number of districts that have reduced the length of their February vacations.

The school committee voted last year to shorten February break from a full week to a long weekend. Starting in the 2017-2018 school year, students will have Monday off for Presidents’ Day and a voluntary staff development day on Tuesday.

Then it’s back to the books.

In Warwick, the school committee surveyed more than 3,000 parents and school employees before making its decision. The majority of parents were in favor of the change, but most teachers were not:

The Warwick Teachers’ Union argued that vacation changes should happen statewide since many teachers don’t live in the same community where they work.

“Many teachers live in other districts and those districts still have a full week of February vacation,” said Warwick Teachers’ Union President Darlene Netcoh. “Teachers will have to go to work and their kids will be home alone.”

Warwick’s school committee also discussed moving its April break, but ultimately decided not to do so.

According to the R.I. Department of Education calendar, 12 school districts have shortened February vacations in the 2016-2017 school year. They are:

  • Bristol-Warren
  • Burrillville
  • Cumberland
  • Foster-Glocester
  • Jamestown
  • Lincoln
  • North Kingstown
  • North Providence
  • Providence
  • Smithfield
  • Tiverton
  • Westerly

The Bristol-Warren school district is taking vacation changes a step further: officials there shortened the February break two years ago, and next year their April vacation will change from the week after Easter to the last week of March.

Bristol-Warren Superintendent Mario Andrade said that even though the changes are recent, they’ve been a long time coming with talks about changes going back to 2010.

“Why are we having a February and April vacation? Should we be looking at a March?” Andrade said. “There was a number of years with that conversation going forward [and] we thought it was too much to change February and April – all of it – in one shot.”

Several parents told Eyewitness News that the change to February break went smoothly.

“I kind of like it because it covers for some snow days in case we get them over the winter and we get out a little bit earlier,” said parent Don Amaral.

Mom Erin Ward said she thinks it’s good because “they have a little more time in school, especially if they’re taking time to prepare for the testing.”

Absenteeism risk

Netcoh, the Warwick union leader, also argued that a change to February vacation could cause an uptick in absenteeism.

“I do know that some parents, if you don’t give the week off, will take the week anyway,” said Netcoh.

The Bristol-Warren district has had a shortened February break for two years now, and Andrade admits that in the first year there was a five percent increase in absenteeism.

“That was due to previously planned vacations with families and students going on vacation, but for the most part the families were very respectful and communicated with the district that they had vacations,” Andrade said. “We worked with individual families and teachers to make accommodations to the teaching and learning to make sure there was no loss of instruction that first year.”

But Andrade said that by the second year things evened out.

District by district

Eyewitness News surveyed Rhode Island superintendents to get an idea of how many districts have changed their calendars, or are planning to.

In the Chariho school district, a subcommittee is studying the issue, while Middletown plans to survey families and staff about the idea in the 2018-19 school year.

Pawtucket decided against a change to the vacation schedule after a survey revealed that parents and staff didn’t support the change, but the superintendent said the city may conduct another survey sometime in the future. Several other school districts considered changing vacations but decided against it, like East Greenwich, Cranston, and South Kingstown.

When asked for comment on the proposal to make school vacation schedules a statewide decision, Department of Education leaders only said that they believe the decision should be left to the districts.

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