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Low attendance expected for Monday makeup day

| Saturday, Dec. 21, 2002

Shrek won't show up at Seneca Valley middle or intermediate high schools Monday. Neither may a large number of students.

For the majority of the district's students, the last day of school before winter break was Friday. But 2,368 seventh- through 10th-graders have one more day to go in 2002.

Monday is the third of five makeup days set by the district as a result of delays in construction and renovation projects at the schools that set the start of the school year for the four grades back from Aug. 26 to Sept. 3.

District officials insist the makeup days aren't throwaways — "the district takes every given day as seriously as another," spokeswoman Linda Andreassi said — but parents and students apparently don't agree.

On the last makeup day, Dec. 2, the opening of deer season, 1,080 students — or 46 percent — were absent. Officials expect absentee figures to jump even higher Monday.

"Dec. 23 is going to be the most challenging," board member Eileen Conners said. "We felt all along it was going to be harder for students to get there (this week) because of the student break."

And this time, Shrek won't be around to draw students in — not that the popular movie has a great track record at Seneca Valley, anyway. Admission was charged Dec. 2 for a morning showing of "Shrek" and "The Sandlot" in the afternoon. The money went to student council's general fund and a nonprofit group set up in memory of two district students police believe were killed by a hit-and-run driver.

But the matinee didn't win favorable reviews from district officials.

"The superintendent (Gerald Malecki) has met with the administration, and that won't happen again," Andreassi said.

Viewing the movies wasn't mandatory, Andreassi said. She didn't know how many students chose movies over class.

Cheri Radke, a ninth-grader at the intermediate high school, had no problem with the movie offerings — "I thought it was OK because I didn't have to do school work," she said — but her mother, Sara, wrote a letter to the school board to complain.

She had a sympathetic ear in Conners.

"If you are going to show a movie in the auditorium, then it is generally going to be considered a play day," Conners said. "My concern is we set a precedent on Dec. 2. You don't grease the skids."

Just 9 percent, or 212 students, in the four grades were absent on the first makeup day, Oct. 11. That's more than twice the district's overall average daily absentee rate of 4 percent for its 7,500 students. But it's a far cry from the nearly half who stayed away Dec. 2 and the low turnout officials anticipate Monday, just two days before Christmas.

"We didn't know what to expect" Dec. 2, Andreassi said. "But we figured it was going to be higher (than Oct. 11). We anticipate Monday will be a higher absence because of the holiday."

The remaining makeup days are March 14 and May 16.

The general contractor for each of the construction and renovation projects has denied responsibility for the work delay. The district has taken the matter to court.

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