BERNARDS TWP., NJ - The Feb. 27 agenda for the next Bernards Board of Education meeting, scheduled to be held Monday at Ridge High School, includes a proposal to revise next year's school calendar. The motion follows a lengthy discussion at the last school board meeting on whether to add the federal Martin Luther King Jr. birthday holiday as a day off in January 2018.
At the Feb. 13 meeting, a majority of the school board's members were in favor of adding the holiday next year. The idea of adding the holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader to the school calendar has been raised on numerous occasions throughout the years. It has even been added to tentative or approved school calendars, only to be removed for a reason such as the need to make up lost school days following Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Monday's meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center at Ridge High School, 268 S. Finley Ave., Basking Ridge.
An informal survey of about 30 school districts in the region - including the neighboring Somerset Hills school district and the Bedminster Public School - showed that Bernards Township was alone this year in holding school on the nationwide holiday to honor King, said Board Member Linda Wooldridge.
Board Member Rhonda Dunten added that parents in the township may have the day off from work on the federal holiday, and be unable to spend the day with children who must attend school.
Some members of the public also told the board they feel that the time is overdue for the district to recognize King's contributions for civil rights for all Americans.
But some board members, as well as a speaker from the public who said she is in favor of adding the day as a school holiday, also pointed to the Bernards Township school district's tradition of teaching students about King and his work on the federal holiday, particularly at a traditional annual assembly held for eighth graders at the William Annin Middle School.
Board Member Karen Gray said she recognizes the importance of the holiday, but she feels it is arbitrary to add extra holiday at this time without looking at the calendar as a whole. The Board of Education approves school calendars three years in advance, subject to revision by March 1 of the previous year.
With the deadline approaching, the board voted 6-3 to ask the school administration to consider ways in which holiday could be added next year without making the school year too long.
A few years ago, following complaints that the school year was ending too late in June, the board surveyed parents to ask which school holidays might be cut. At that time, the weeklong "winter break" in February was removed from subsequent calendars, and board members showed continuing reluctance to add additional holidays.
During the Feb. 13 discussion, Board Member John Fry said that he recalled that even while parents had responded that they wished to limit days off for school holidays, the respondents had indicated that if another day off were to be added to the calendar they would prefer it to be the federal holiday honoring King.
Board Member Michael Byrne said he believes students would learn more about King in school than by having a day off - prompting some parents to note that King's contributions to civil rights could be taught as part of American history on another school day.
At the Feb. 14 meeting, Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian said the most likely options are either to add an extra day to the school year, moving graduation for 2018 to June 20, instead of June 19, or to have students report a day earlier to school in September 2017.
The first day of school now on next year's school calendar is Thursday, Sept. 7, preceded by two days of in-service preparation by staff members. The superintendent said on Feb. 14 he would need to meet with the teachers union to discuss staff members would be willing to change long precedent, and report to school on the Friday prior to Labor Day weekend.
Working on future calendars
The agenda also includes further discussion on developing the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school calendars, as well as accepting resignations, making appointments, and approving school trips.