Q&A on making up lost instructional time due to Hurricane Sandy

We hope this Q&A answers your questions about making up the storm days. But at the risk of repetition, there are some things that we want you to know before you read the Q&A. We want to make it clear that we wish this never happened and we wish we didn’t have to make up the days. But making up the days was NOT a choice. It’s the law. We did not have the power to negotiate over if we should make up the days or not. We just discussed which days we MUST make up. This is happening to ALL the affected school districts in New York State. The Commissioner of Education cannot grant a waiver while we still have vacation days. School districts only get a waiver after ALL vacation days are used.

Why did we have to give up part of our midwinter break? There had to be better alternatives.

First of all, we didn’t have the power to negotiate over whether or not to give up days. State law requires that we make up those days. The discussions we had with the DOE were only about which days to use. The state requires a minimum number of 180 instructional days and this school year, we were close to that minimum given how the holidays fell. If this were last year, when we had 186 days in the school calendar, we would have been able to absorb the lost time. We are dealing with this issue because we have the maximum vacation time in this year’s calendar.

The union explored every possible option for making up the time, but state law and regulations would not allow us to convert PD days, get a state waiver, extend the day, come in Saturdays, work on federal holidays or use days at the end of the school year. The time had to come out of the Christmas break, the midwinter break, the spring break and one clerical half-day. There was no other choice.

Why didn’t you consult with the members before agreeing to give up those three vacation days?

Time was of the essence in this situation so members and parents could make plans. Under state law, the days had to come from one of the three breaks. The midwinter break was chosen because it was the only break that did not contain religious observance days.

The state has the power to grant a waiver in the event of a natural disaster. Why didn’t the state issue one in this instance?

By state law, we would have to use up EVERY vacation day in this year’s school calendar before the state Education Department or the State Education Commissioner can grant a waiver allowing New York City to have fewer than 180 days in the school calendar.

How have other school districts around the state dealt with this dilemma?

As of Nov. 20, 13 school districts on Long Island have already agreed to make up the time by taking away all or part of the February break and/or the spring break. Others will be following suit in the days ahead. There weren’t better choices available for any school district.

I already booked a trip to visit my family in California. Do I have to cancel my plane tickets?

We realize that a number of you have already bought airline tickets or cruises for the midwinter break and risk losing a lot of money if you canceled those trips now. At our insistence, the DOE agreed to allow any UFT member who has purchased a vacation before Nov. 20 to go on the purchased vacation and instead deduct those days from his or her CAR bank. They will have to submit proof of purchase. If they have no days in their leave bank, they can either borrow days or take the days as days without pay. These absences won’t be used against those members in any disciplinary hearing or in their end-of-year rating.

Why didn’t the union insist on making up the lost instructional time by using Election Day and Brooklyn-Queens Day for instruction instead of professional development?

Under New York State law, school districts have the right to use up to four days without instruction in the calculation of the number of days to meet the state’s 180-day minimum requirement. The DOE already used four non-instructional days — including Election Day and Brooklyn-Queens Day — in its calculation so converting those days to instruction would not have helped solve the problem.

Why didn’t we make up the time by converting the last few days in June into instructional days or by extending the school year?

State law does not allow you to make up days to meet the 180-day minimum by adding instructional days after the completion of the high school Regents. That means we could not make up the lost time by making changes to the school calendar at the end of June.

Why didn’t we convert Martin Luther King Day or Memorial Day into work days instead?

State law does not permit turning a federal holiday into a school day.

Why didn’t we make up the time by extending the school day?

According to state law, you can’t add to the minimum number of required instructional days by extending the length of the school day.

Why is it that we frequently work more than 180 days per year without getting any days back?

Our contract states that we come back to work the day after Labor Day and up to the last Wednesday in June. The length of the school year depends on where the holidays fall in a given year. This year, every holiday fell on a school day so we were already at nearly the minimum number of required days.

The mayor ordered non-school-based members to report to their work site for the whole week after the hurricane. I walked miles to get to my school. Why do I have to make up that time?

If non-school-based members such as teachers assigned made it to work on any of those four days starting on Oct. 29, they will not have to make up those days that they reported.

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