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District's Error Scraps Summer Break For Two Schools

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It's a kid's worst nightmare - just as the last bell has rung for summer break, a school district's error sentences students to another six weeks in class.

That's what happened at two Southern California schools, where administrators face a $7 million penalty from the state after cutting a few school days too short.

Scrambling to comply with state law, they began makeup days June 15 while their state assemblyman hurries to push a bill through the Legislature that could spare their sabotaged summer vacation from a rare technicality.

The Chino Valley Unified School District discovered in April that Friday class schedules at Rolling Ridge Elementary School and Dickson Elementary School were five to ten minutes shorter than the state legally allows. While the schools both meet the state-mandated minimum 54,000 minutes of classroom time annually, they fell just shy of 180 minutes on Fridays.

Legally, those 34 short days don't count as school days, and the district could lose all the $7 million allotted them for student attendance. Its solution is to spend $200,000 on teachers and other costs to keep the kids in school for 34 more days.

"We try to be rule followers here, so we'll try to do whatever needs to be done," said Amy Nguyen-Hernandez, principal of Rolling Ridge.

The problem is, report cards were final on June 7 and attendance can't be enforced, so Rolling Ridge has seen attendance plummet. While the school has about 280 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders enrolled, the midsummer sessions average just 40 to 60 students.

As school let out Wednesday, parents, baby sitters and students had mixed reactions about their fated summer break.

"I think we should be having fun, not going to school," said Nelly Hejazi, 10, a fifth-grader who said she's opting to attend the classes only three days a week because there are no consequences for missing class.

Assemblyman Curt Hagman, a Republican from Chino Hills, is trying to rescue summer break with a bill that would waive penalties against the district once it completes 10 days of makeup classes. The Assembly education committee passed the measure, and the appropriations committee and full Assembly are expected to vote this week.

In a best-case scenario, though, the bill won't clear the state Senate for eight to 10 days.

"These poor kids are the pawns in this whole mess," Hagman said.

Julie Gobin, spokeswoman for the Chino school district, said there's no question the schools will finish out the summer school program. It needs the money to offset repeated budget cuts that led to the layoffs of 99 teachers and the shuttering of three elementary schools.

The possible loss of funding "is too severe for us to jeopardize," she said.

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