Metro, Politics, Newton

Families Navigate Problems In Newton Schools During Canceled February Break

Newton’s schools are in session, but learning is different during the week that would have been the district’s February vacation, according to parents. Teachers and families must navigate temporary changes in school-sponsored sports and classroom instruction. 

“People who chose to stay around and go to school, they aren’t getting what they thought they were getting,” said Kelly Fattman, a parent of a student at Newton South High School.

Following an 11-day teachers’ strike in late January, the Newton School Committee voted to cancel February vacation to help make up for lost instruction time. 

When Fattman heard February break was called off, she planned to keep her children out of school anyway.

She had scheduled her son’s driver’s education classes during the break, and he wanted to get his license as quickly as possible.

“I said, ‘Not my kids,’” Fattman said. “Because I don’t care … you guys can’t get your act together. And so I said, ‘Hey, just go to driver’s ed.’”

Shortly after, however, her son got moved up from junior varsity basketball to the varsity team, meaning he could not miss school without also being barred from practice for that day. 

Newton Public Schools (NPS) are not penalizing students for absences during the week, but typical attendance rules for sports still apply. 

“Our coaches receive a list of the students who are absent before the end of each day,” a Newton South Athletic Department email to parents read. “Any student on the absent list is not allowed to play or practice on that day.”

To make it work, her son is taking his driver’s ed classes at school and picking up his school assignments during his breaks.“It seems like there’s going to be a little bit of leniency in that, as long as you’re in the school, he’ll get credit for being at the school, but it feels like it’s a really, really large mess,” Fattman said.

Fattman expressed frustration at the lack of exceptions made for students who must miss school during a week when they had planned to be on vacation.

“These kids are required to be in school to practice or whatever, which I think is a complete mess that we should have gotten an exemption from,” Fattman said. 

Newton South High School teacher Chrysolite Fitzgerald said NPS is being strict on teacher absences during the would-be vacation week.

“They’re being hypervigilant about it, like you will be fired if you don’t follow our protocol, which is, just doesn’t feel very nice,” Fitzgerald said.

Teachers are not allowed to take personal days during this week, and sick-day requests must be verified with a doctor’s note. 

In anticipation of widespread student absences, district leadership said teachers could not teach any material during the week that their students would be tested on later. 

Fitzgerald, who is a math teacher, said one of her classes will work on a group project, while another will do a digital escape room activity to review previous material.

“This is like, for the kids that are there, they’re going to get extra review but in a fun way,” Fitzgerald said.

Between 30 to 50 percent of NPS students were absent on Tuesday, the first day of the previously scheduled vacation.

Public sector strikes are illegal in Massachusetts, and the Newton Teachers Association will pay a total of $625,000 in fines for its strike—$275,000 to NPS and $350,000 to the state.

February 24, 2024