When should school start? Arlington schools draft framework for future academic calendars

Arlington Public Schools in Virginia has unveiled a proposed policy that it would use as a framework to create calendars for each school year.

The school board has already passed an academic calendar for the 2023-24 school year, but the policy would be used to codify things such as how many days each school year has and which holidays students and staff have off.

The proposed policy, which is open for public comment until May 19, is expected to be voted on in July.

It includes a requirement that every school year has at least 180 instructional days, and would urge county officials to maximize five-day school weeks in calendar development. Parents and educators across Northern Virginia have emphasized the importance of in-school time in helping students catch up after the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think that having five-day school weeks is a great priority. I’m happy to see it’s in there,” said parent Jennifer Wheelock. “I also really liked that they’re going to try to establish these two years in a row — I think it helps tremendously for everyone’s planning to be able to see that.”

Part of the proposed policy calls for calendars to be developed two years in advance, so the 2026-27 school year calendar would have to be developed by December 2024, according to school board documents.

The policy also calls for the school year to begin two weeks before Labor Day, a change that some critics say would unnecessarily shorten the summer and hinder students’ ability to maximize the amount of money they can make in a summer job.

Winter break would be two weeks and include Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Wheelock said the school system usually has seven to 10 days off for winter break.

“This past year, it was 11 working days,” Wheelock said. “And that meant that again, our kids were out of school for 17 days in December and into January. A lot of elementary school teachers will tell you how incredibly disruptive that is, again, for elementary age students, and that they have to relearn routines.”

Spring break would be a week long and would be set for the week before Easter.

The policy also lists holidays that students and staff would both have off, such as:

  • Friday before Labor Day
  • Labor Day
  • First Day of Rosh Hashana
  • Yom Kippur
  • Diwali
  • Veterans Day
  • Day before Thanksgiving
  • Thanksgiving
  • Day after Thanksgiving
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day
  • New Year’s Eve
  • New Year’s Day
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • Presidents Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Eid al Fitr
  • Juneteenth

Holidays such as Bodi Day, the Lunar New Year and Orthodox Christmas, among others, will be designated Cultural Observance Days. School may still be held on those days, the policy says, but schools shouldn’t have field trips, school pictures, assemblies or auditions on those days.

Students who miss a test or quiz given on such days will be able to take it afterward without a penalty, according to the policy.

The full proposal is available online.

Fairfax County Public Schools, the state’s largest school system, has adopted a calendar for the next three school years, and Falls Church City Public Schools has created a similar policy to guide its calendar process.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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