standing westerly middle school

WESTERLY — The school district is set to follow a schedule set by the state for the 2021-22 academic year.

Local districts, through their school committees, are usually free to set their own calendar as long as they meet requirements such as the number of days students attend school in a given year, but former Gov. Gina Raimondo imposed a statewide calendar for the current school year as a means to help slow the spread of COVID-19. State officials have proposed another statewide calendar for 2021-22.

The schedule is viewed by some as one of the few areas that school committees have direct control over. Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau, during the School Committee's March 24 meeting, recommended that the committee adopt the state schedule for the next school year but acknowledged concerns that he had raised previously about the committee giving up "local control."

"It's one of the few things school committees have authority over. I would be concerned about a potential erosion of authority but recognizing the pandemic ... we followed the state," Garceau said.

Having all districts follow the same calendar has some benefits, such as aligning professional development days, but it has drawbacks as well, Garceau said, pointing specifically to a February vacation that appears on the state schedule. The Westerly School Committee had previously done away with the February vacation, substituting in its a place a long weekend. Garceau said the February recess comes too soon after the Christmas holiday recess.

"My recommendation at this point is to adopt this [state] calendar ... and consider making your concerns known about usurpation of local control," Garceau said.

The School Committee voted 6-1 in favor of adopting the state calendar. School Committee member Rob Cillino voted against the initiative. Diane Chiaradio Bowdy, Christine Cooke, Marianne Nardone, Giuseppe Gencarelli, Michael Ober and Rebecca Fowler voted in favor.

Cillino, who works as a principal at a public school in Connecticut, said he shared Garceau's perspective on February vacation. Gencarelli, who works as principal of Hope Valley Elementary School, said he had mixed views about the calendar but said the February vacation provides a needed break and an opportunity to air out school buildings in the winter.

Chiaradio Bowdy noted that the state calendar calls for the school year to start after Labor Day, which many Westerly officials and families prefer to allow businesses a final summer weekend of commerce before student employees become unavailable.

"I share the concerns, I don't like a full February break, but because we don't go back until after Labor Day I'm more amenable to this," Chiaradio Bowdy said.

Ober said he agreed with Garceau.

"I'd like to accept the superintendent's advice … we are still dealing with COVID, but after next year [we should] revisit. In the future I prefer a more district-based calendar," Ober said.

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