The Day-After Epidemic


It’s April. The sweet scent of sprouting grass fills the halls. Flowers bloom, bees buzz, music plays, and students smile. After weeks of hard schooling endured, a unique energy fills the school. Footsteps in the halls are a little lighter. Eyes are a little brighter. Sleeves are a little shorter. With the final cram of tests and projects, the beloved spring break rests ever so peacefully in the near horizon. It’s Friday. Excitement bubbles with a week of relaxation on everyone’s minds, a respite from the hustle, bustle, and late night studies. Sitting in class, students gaze at the board. It reads: “Homework…” The light in students’ eyes fade. They begin to converse; after all, isn’t it a no-homework break? How is this allowed? Then they see it. They all see it. The due date. Two days after break. The spring peach and honey tint of the school fades into a mechanical grey. This is the Day After Epidemic.

For both students and staff, spring break is a break like no other. The one-week spring break is a preview of the glorious two-month long summer break ahead. It marks the nearing of the end of school and stands an opportunity to stave off the ever-growing hunger for warm-weather freedom. Whether or not the break is a “no homework” vacation is unclear and confuses teachers and students alike. No homework breaks are recesses in which non-AP teachers are prohibited from assigning work to be completed over the week, creating a chance to rest and spend time with family without the burden of completing or, for teachers, grading and creating assignments. However, a loophole within the practice sticks out like a sore, essay-bruised thumb: the ability of teachers to set the due date for assignments two days after break is over, theoretically providing one night or so for work to be completed after break before the due date. However, this one night very rarely comes close to providing ample time for completion, essentially forcing students to complete the work over their once no-homework break.

Although this is a prevalent issue in Tenafly High School today, solutions are still elusive. “It’s annoying because teachers say they’re not giving work over the break, but obviously you can’t do the work assigned in one night and you eventually have to work on it over the break,” said Ella Herman (’20). Herman is just one of the many victims of this epidemic, receiving several projects and assignments in the past that have required her to work over break.

“A break is necessary to rest from all these stressful periods of hard schoolwork,” said Jun Jeon (’21), “Many of my teachers have abused this loophole regardless of the practice. During break I actually have a schedule, so when teachers assign me something like a project, it just piles on even more stress.”

“It has happened to me, and I feel that it is unjust,” says Jack Hughes (’21), “I feel violated. When the school gives us a break and it’s supposed to be no homework, but they put the due date a day after, it’s very frustrating. It is simply encroaching upon our right of break and rest from the exhausting labor of school. It’s pretty frustrating.”

“That’s messed up. We shouldn’t have work assigned the day after the day after break. THAT’S MESSED UP. Quote me on that,” said Yotam Norman (’21).

The term “break,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition, is “a respite from work, school, or duty.” Many students feel that having a vacation such as that of spring break should entitle a complete pause in studies so that they may relax and refresh and so that unexpected schoolwork doesn’t interfere with break activities often planned months in advance. Many students seem to echo that a break should be homework free, but the final blow is the fact that the break being declared definitively as homework-permitting is nowhere to be found.

Shauna DeMarco, Superintendent of Schools in Tenafly, wrote in the 2018-2019 official homework letter, “Homework may be due/assessments may be given on the day of return from Spring Recess (April); teachers are given the discretion to make the decision that they deem best for their students.” While this clarifies that assignments may be due on the day of return from the break, no information is provided in the email or the Administrative Manual as to whether or not assignments may be assigned so that they are completed over spring break, nor does it provide a guideline for a time period in which teachers are permitted to assign work before break. Providing ample time for completion before the break with the option of work over break depending on the student’s preference or schedule is an entirely different matter than giving an assignment to be completed over break. This ambiguity prevents students from knowing the practices that support their workload and teachers from understanding what they can and can not assign and when. The vague regulation surrounding spring break represents a problem in desperate need of fixing.

“I think April break is actually not homework-free, but I’d have to check that,” said school principal Mr. Morrison, “On homework-free breaks, if you’re being assigned something the night before break and it’s due the Tuesday we get back, that should be a one-night assignment. One time, after a snow day, I once actually went into a Spanish class to tell the teacher who was about to give out a test not to give it. If I find a violation of the no-homework practice, I will enforce it. It’s been maintained for years, even before I became principal. But before I come down too hard on a teacher who has something due Tuesday, I would need to know when the assignment was assigned and the requirements of the assignment. An assignment that would require long-term preparation, like reading a book in English class, would not be expected to be finished in one night. It is the student’s choice to read ahead or not, and they have opportunities to do so during breaks. The teacher cannot be reported for allowing students to read ahead for a future assignment.”

Thus, a frequently abused loophole in the homework-free break practice in combination with vague and unclear regulation creates the perfect storm for spring break to transform into a confusing hurricane of homework and potentially improperly assigned assignments without teacher’s knowledge of possible violation of the unclear boundaries set upon the beloved break. However, one thing remains clear:  if teachers and students are to achieve a truly work-free break for both parties, as it has been made clear that teachers are not required to give assignments over break, mutual respect and understanding is crucial.

“If you want teachers to respect your time with your family and to rest, which I acknowledge is important, you must respect our time with our family. When I give a test, say, the Thursday before break, and I give no homework, but students come back to school expecting tests graded, it becomes clear to see that mutual respect is needed to properly enforce the practice, which is something we need to reach for,” said Spanish and Italian teacher Mrs. Pelaez-Martinez.

So, although both the staff and students have reasonable rationale for the injustice each party feels, the school needs to work together as one to reach for a consensus to end the Day After Epidemic and teachers grading over break, ultimately lifting the burden from hard-working student and staff shoulders. We should all take advantage of the warm, sunny days and use the break to…well, break.