Spring Break Cancelled Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

To the dismay of students and faculty alike, spring break, which was supposed to last from April 9 to 17, has been canceled with schools mandated to continue remote learning during the days originally designated for break.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Spring break, which was supposed to last from April 9 to 17, has been canceled, with schools mandated to continue remote learning during the days originally designated for break. Governor Andrew Cuomo had ordered a partial cancellation of spring break from April 13 to 17 on March 31, with the stipulation that April 9 and 10, which are the beginnings of Passover and Good Friday, would remain non-instructional days. In a letter to teachers on April 3 however, Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Richard Carranza declared that “schools must continue to offer remote learning, including during days that were previously scheduled as breaks,” designating all of spring break to be remote learning days.

The cancellation of spring break elicited mixed reactions from teachers. “The switch to remote learning caused a lot of stress and a bigger-than-usual workload for everyone, but especially for students. We all accepted that with the understanding that after a couple of weeks of hard work, we would be able to catch our breaths and relax a bit,” physics teacher Thomas Strasser said in an e-mail interview.

Teachers, however, understand that the break was canceled in hopes of keeping students inside and safe. “Like everyone else, I was looking forward to the break. But when the NYS [New York State] Health Department asked teachers through the DOE to continue to teach in order to keep students inside, I bought into the plan,” social studies teacher Dr. Lisa Greenwald said in an e-mail interview. “Teaching online hasn’t been easy, but I feel incredibly privileged to be working from the safety of my home when there are so many people who are working on the outside risking their lives.”
Many students, especially those observing Passover and other religious holidays during the break, were upset about the continuation of remote learning. “The Passover seders are a time to lean back in your chair and read the tribulations and triumphs of your ancestors. It’s a time of relaxation and bliss. I just felt it was kind of ridiculous to cancel that kind of holiday and make someone go do work in school,” junior Jonah Keller said.

Despite his unhappiness with designating April 9 and 10 as school days, Keller specified that canceling the rest of spring break was not a religious conflict for him. “Teachers were basically given only three days off to learn how to use entirely new systems and platforms and just the entire remote learning system. We’re all adjusting. I think everyone just needs a little break from the chaos,” he said.

Sophomore Morris Raskin agreed. “I am fine with attending school while observing Passover. For me, it’s not a super intensive holiday in terms of how much time it takes up or the amount of observance you need to commit to,” he said. “I think the DOE is wrong to take away spring break. It’s not because I think that it will interfere with my religious celebration but because we deserve a Spring Break at this point. We’ve worked really hard for it over these past few weeks.”

Many teachers also disagreed with the city’s decision of canceling April 9 and April 10 as days of the break, both because of their religious significance and because they felt that their students deserve a break. “Everyone has been working harder than usual the last week, and we all deserved at least a long weekend. It also seems that little consideration was given to the religious holidays that many students and teachers want to celebrate especially in difficult times like these. No one should be at a disadvantage for that, and of course, everyone should be excused for observing their religious holidays,” Strasser said. “What makes this decision even more incomprehensible is that Mayor [Bill] de Blasio was the one who introduced Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, and Lunar New Year as school holidays to allow more people to celebrate their religious holidays.”

In a response to the city’s cancellations, the Stuyvesant administration has worked to create a modified schedule for the week of spring break. In an e-mail to Stuyvesant faculty, Principal Eric Contreras wrote that student work would not be assigned or due on April 9 and 10, including “tests, papers, projects, or live sessions.” The following week, from April 13 to 17, students will not have any assigned work or assessments, and can instead attend office hours with teachers and counselor-led wellness activities. “I hope [the cancellation of assignments and tests] diminishes the stress level,” Strasser said. “I already decided to give very little work on these days [anyway] and allowed students to do it ahead of time so that students could create their own ‘break;’ they needed it and deserved it.”

Despite the overlap of Passover and the canceled spring break, several Jewish students still feel that the administration has handled the situation well. “At first, I was taken aback. Throughout my entire time as a student in the New York City Public School System, Jewish holidays were recognized and allocated time off to be celebrated. When the cancellation of spring break was first announced, I felt as though the one thing I could look forward to during this time of chaos would no longer remain, ” junior Henry Michaelson said in an e-mail interview. “I do believe, [however], that the administration handled the situation well. They have been very sensitive [toward the students and faculty] who are celebrating Passover while [maintaining] a sense of normalcy, [even during the disorder of] remote education.”

Teachers have also commended the Stuyvesant administration for this decision and the Guidance Department for its efforts to alleviate the stress and anxieties of many students. “Thanks to the leadership of Stuyvesant and the commitment of the guidance counselors, spring break ‘work’ will be a series of fun and useful meetings and activities that will be beneficial to all,” Dr. Greenwald said. “Stuyvesant is a strong institution, full of people who care. That is why the Guidance Department has worked tirelessly to reach out to so many of you and your parents throughout very long days since schools closed and why they are sacrificing the entirety of their spring break to do more outreach and bring you content next week that can help you navigate these (and future) trying times.”