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School ends with city, union bickering over when it should begin

It appears that no matter is too small for the city’s teachers union and the Department of Education to bicker over, not even what day class should start.

Negotiations to change the first day of school have broken down because the union is insisting that all schools choose when to open and the city is demanding that all schools open at the same time. Rather than work out a deal to move the first day of school five days back, the two sides have taken to publicly sniping at each other.

In a letter the city sent to principals today, Chancellor Joel Klein blamed the union for refusing to agree to his preferred schedule. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew responded by holding a press conference where he blamed the Chancellor for being inflexible.

“Parents should be outraged that Chancellor Klein has refused to exert the authority he has to properly manage the school calendar,” Mulgrew said.

The city wants to move the start of school from Wednesday, September 8 to Monday, September 13, to make the first week of school a full one. Under the current schedule, students will report for one day of class on Wednesday. But because of Rosh Hashanah, a major Jewish holiday, they will not have their second day of school until the following Monday.

Klein’s proposal would push back the start of school and make up the missed day by turning Brooklyn-Queens Day, a midweek teacher training day in June, into an instructional day.

Mulgrew said that all schools should be able to choose whether to change the start date and, if they do, how to make up the lost classroom time.

“There are areas where schools want their kids in school on September 8,” he said. “So that’s why I do believe we give schools the authority and the autonomy to make the decision.”

A spokesman for the union said most of the demand for the September 8 start date had come from parents in low-income neighborhoods, but could not name any specific schools.

Department of Education press secretary David Cantor said allowing every school to select its own start date would complicate bus routes and food services. It would also cause problems for parents who have children in different schools.

“There’s nobody who has kids in different schools who would want the days to be different,” Cantor said, adding that the department has not heard from any parents who want school to open on September 8.

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