Playing hooky

Published 10:31 pm Thursday, March 11, 2010

When they get up tomorrow, it will be back to the old Saturday morning schedule for students in Suffolk’s public schools.

Unlike last week, they will not be expected to grab their books and homework and head to school first thing in the morning on Saturday.

Even though last Saturday had been scheduled as a make-up day for snow, nearly a quarter of the system’s students chose to take a pass.

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The make-up day was scheduled after last Wednesday’s classes were canceled because of snow, resulting in the fifth missed day of classes this school year. In order to complete the state-required 990 hours of classroom instruction, school officials chose to schedule classes on Saturday.

“Saturday make-up days have long been an option in our calendar approved each year by the School Board,” said Bethanne Bradshaw, the system’s public information officer. “It has rarely been used, but we believe it is a viable option for the fifth day missed.”

Only 76 percent of students attended Saturday’s class, meaning that approximately 3,500 students played hooky.

On a typical day, school administrators said, the system has a 95-percent attendance rate.

“While it’s not ideal, quality instruction continues, despite low attendance,” Bradshaw said.

In addition to poor attendance, “not everyone was happy” with the arrangement, Bradshaw said.

“Some people wanted more than three days’ notice. Others wanted the Saturday make-up day to be an early dismissal day. We have done early dismissal schedule in years past, but our board-approved calendar for several years has spelled out that if a full day is missed, then a full day shall be used to compensate for instructional time.”

While low attendance is a drawback of Saturday school, one benefit is that no further dates already in the schedule have to be moved.

“Low attendance (during a Saturday make-up day) is a challenge, but the benefit with this week’s schedule is that the missed day was made up in the same week and therefore, the flow of instruction remains and no further dates had to adjusted — like progress reports, SOL test dates,” Bradshaw said.

The decision to hold Saturday classes is made by the School Board, following the recommendation of the calendar planning committee, which is composed of parents, teachers, support staff and administrators.

“The calendar planning committee debates the make-up day schedule each year and makes recommendations to the School Board,” Bradshaw said.

Alternatives, such as the decision by the Isle of Wight school system to add more time to the end of each school day, have been considered, but “it’s hard to measure that a full day’s missed instruction is adequately replaced by a few extra minutes of class spread over weeks or months — particularly when there are set grading periods and established standardized testing dates,” Bradshaw said.

Saturday classes were held before in 2003, after Hurricane Isabel. Students that year had a make-up day in October and another in November.

“While it was not approved in the calendar, the board voted to have those days made up early because of the unusual circumstances. Attendance was about the same,” Bradshaw said.

“Since it’s unusual to miss the number of days missed in 2009-10, the calendar committee will probably take more time to consider its make-up day recommendations in the future,” Bradshaw said.