181-day school year? State might want storm closures made up in 2018-19

If the state’s Board of Education grants Ridgefield Public Schools a waiver to have less than 180 classroom days this year, then it will probably require the district to hold an extra day during the 2018-19 school year. If the waiver is denied Wednesday, June 6, then schools would still likely be in session for 181 days next year.

That was the bizarre catch-22 laid out by Acting Superintendent Robert Miller at the end of the town’s May 29 Board of Education meeting.

“If they grant us the approval, their recourse may be that they add a school day to this upcoming school year. If they deny us the exemption, their recourse is that they might add a day to next year,” Miller said.

“To penalize us,” he added, after board Chairwoman Fran Walton appeared shocked by that plan. “Either way, their recourse is the same.”

Ridgefield requested the waiver after its 14th school closure on May 17.

In a year marked by a Halloween storm, a devastating blizzard in March, and the May 15 ‘macroburst’ that saw 100 mph winds slam the northside of town, the district has had to plead its case to the state Board of Education to allow the local schools to be open for one less day than the state-mandated 180 days.

With the last day of school set for Friday, June 29, the district will hold classes for a total of 179 days this year.

The waiver would apply only to the high school, where sophomores, juniors, and seniors all start one day later than their younger peers in grades kindergarten through freshmen. Those younger students meet the state requirement for 180 school days, thanks to the one extra day in their schedule — assuming the district does not have another closure before the last day of school.

“Such authorization is contingent upon Ridgefield High School having at least 181 school days for the 2018-19 school year,” said the report presented to the state Board of Education.

The Danbury Public Schools, which also extended its school year out to June 29 and still could not reach 180 days of class, has also applied for a waiver at the same meeting, said Peter Yazbak, communications director for the state Department of Education.

Brookfield denied

Miller said he reached out to staff about holding school on Memorial Day after one district had a waiver rejected by the state because the district had not used up all of their available days in June (schools are prohibited from holding class in July).

Only 15% of those who responded told Miller they would definitely be able to work on Memorial Day — which would not even be enough staff to “supervise for student safety,” he explained.

Several towns to the north and east of Ridgefield were hit particularly hard during the macroburst. Brookfield was among them, and had a waiver to hold class for fewer than 180 days denied by the state Board of Education on Thursday, May 31.

A letter from the Brookfield school district said that “the waiver request is denied based upon the fact that the Brookfield Public Schools will complete 180 days of school on Friday, June 29, 2018.”

Calendar conflict

In an email on Friday, Miller declined to say where the extra day would fall in next year’s calendar.

“If we need to add a day we will need to look at the calendar to see how we would do that,” he told The Press.

He said that from his understanding, there would not be a fine or financial penalty imposed by the state for being short one school day in 2017-18.