Some Beaufort Co. parents object to holding school on Veterans Day, calling it inappropriate

Before the Beaufort County school year started last month, the district already had a plan in place to make up any days lost to hurricane season.

Now that some parents are expressing dismay over Veterans Day being among those reserved days, the school district is asking the board to change that plan.

“I feel like going back and changing what we’ve put out to the public is not the right way to do business,” former district teacher and current board vice-chairman Cathy Robine said Tuesday night after district staff presented two options for making up the four days lost to Hurricane Dorian earlier this month.

Both recommendations from the district include Feb. 17 as a makeup day, as well as two of the three dates the board had already chosen: Nov. 27 and March 13.

One of the district’s options includes Veterans Day as a makeup day.

The other, though, would require the board to waive one of the four missed days, which would allow the district to close schools on Veterans Day.

The school board decided on the original makeup days in February — in a 10-1 vote.

Over four years and through six storm-related school closures, district families and employees have experienced some headaches as the district and the board decided how best to meet the 120 hours of class time in a semester required by state law while not compromising test scores or unnecessarily disrupting already-made vacation plans.

Most notably, the board reversed course two times after 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, causing confusion and complaints in the community by altering winter break twice.

“We’ve already had families change their travel plans,” then-board member Joey Dunkle said after the final vote. “Whatever we do, we’re going to have people upset with us.”

At Tuesday night’s meeting, it appeared this year might not be any different for the board.

Honoring the day

Vice-chairman Robine and two other former district teachers who sit on the board — Tricia Fidrych and Melvin Campbell — expressed concern about waiving Veterans Day to Superintendent Frank Rodriguez and chief instructional services officer Mary Stratos, both of whom are new to the district this school year.

“We should’ve had this conversation about Veterans Day before we approved this calendar with these makeup days,” Robine said.

Fidrych, the chair of the academic committee, agreed.

Veterans Day is very important to me as the daughter of a veteran, the wife of a veteran, the mother of a veteran,” she said. “So are the other days on this calendar that we celebrate and honor people. I know that our teachers and our schools will make sure that Veterans Day is honored.”

Hilton Head representative Campbell asked district officials whether high school students would still meet mandatory seat time for the fall semester if there was just one makeup day before winter break. Stratos said schools would be “just able to make it” to that mandatory minimum for the fall semester.

District 2 representative David Striebinger said he would support keeping schools closed on Veterans Day.

That sentiment was echoed by several community members at last week’s academic committee meeting, where Fidrych led a discussion on makeup days, and several parents said they did not want Veterans Day to be used.

“As much as I don’t like the holiday breaks being cut into, I would hate even more to see Veterans Day as a makeup day,” Natalie Thill Keene commented on a poll by STAND for Students on makeup day options. “We have such a big military community here, past and present. They deserve to be celebrated that day.”

Stratos said that one mother’s statement on why she would not send her kids to school on Veterans Day because of her ties to the Marines “hit a core” that influenced district discussions.

Ultimately, she said, the options that were presented were the ones that were “most aligned” with the pre-existing calendar.

When asked if the district had considered any backlash to the shift from pre-approved makeup days, similar to that experienced after Hurricane Matthew, Stratos said she didn’t recall discussions of that.

“We went forward,” she said. “We didn’t go backward.”

The board will vote on the makeup days at its Sept. 23 meeting.

Follow more of our reporting on Hurricane Dorian

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Rachel Jones covers education for the Island Packet and the Beaufort Gazette. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has worked for the Daily Tar Heel and Charlotte Observer. Rachel grew up in Ayden, NC, surrounded by teachers.