Bid fails for waiver of school day cancelled by Murtagh funeral

File photoOfficials, friends and family carry the casket of Superintendent Cara Murtagh from City Hall on Dec. 5. A bid to get the state to waive the 180 school-day requirement failed this week. Officials closed schools city wide for the funeral and were asking for the waiver in the event of running out of the five “snow” days that were set aside this school year.

PEABODY — State education officials have declined a request by the city to waive one day from the 180-day minimum that students are required to be in class. This was in light of the city’s schools being closed for the funeral of the Superintendent Cara Murtagh a week after her death.

The waiver was apparently requested out of concern that if the district runs out of snow days, that could push the school year into late June. However, the district still has two snow days to spare amid a relatively mild winter.

Interim Superintendent Marc Kerble said, as of Tuesday, students’ last day will be June 23, and the last day for staff will be June 24 — that is if the weather cooperates.

“We are just hoping there are no more snow days,” Kerble said.

In a letter dated Dec. 17, from Mayor Ted Bettencourt and Peabody Veterans Memorial High School Principal/Assistant Superintendent Chris Lord, they requested the waiver due to schools being closed on Dec. 6 so that the community could attend Murtagh’s public funeral at City Hall.

She died on Nov. 29 at age 44, shocking the school community and the city, and hundreds gathered for her funeral. The city also told the state education department the community was also reeling from the death of an eighth-grade Higgins Middle School student, Jackson Frechette, after he had been struck by a car on Route 114 in November, and the death of Peabody High Assistant Principal Judith Maniatis, one day after Murtagh passed away.

“My sincere condolences on the passing of Ms. Murtagh, Jackson Frechette and Ms. Maniatis,” wrote state education commissioner Jeffrey Riley, in a Jan. 14 letter.

“State regulations require that each school must be in session for a minimum of 180 days a year,” Riley said. “I take this requirement seriously, and consider waiver requests in the context of the longstanding policy of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that all days lost to health, weather or safety emergencies between the first day of the school year and March 31st must be made up to ensure a 180-day school year. I must decline your request for a waiver.”

School Committee Vice Chairperson Beverley Griffin Dunne said the waiver request was an attempt to be proactive and she did not think there would be an impact on the school calendar.

The district builds five snow days into the calendar, with Friday, June 19, through Thursday, June 25, designated as those makeup days. Dunne said the district has two remaining days out of five.

“Pray there is no more snow this year,” she said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews. Find us at 300 Rosewood Drive, Suite 107, Danvers, Mass.

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