Fairfax Co. school board considers new calendar to address learning loss from pandemic

The Fairfax County School Board is considering adding four new days off to the 2021-2022 school calendar, to coincide with diverse religious holidays. But the effects of COVID-19 may delay the Virginia school system’s plans — at least, temporarily.

A religious observances task force created by the school board worked for months to craft two calendar options it has labeled A and B. Both include days off for Diwali (Nov. 4, 2021), Eid (May 3, 2022), Rosh Hashana (Sept. 7, 2021) and Yom Kippur (Sept. 16, 2021).

The pandemic delayed the school board from voting on one option or the other, and now a third calendar proposal — option C — has been added to the mix.

Calendar C does away with the new days off, in favor of more instructional days to help students make up for pandemic-related learning loss.

Drafts for version A, version B and version C have been published online.

“We’re really trying to balance religious equity on one hand, with pandemic equity on the other,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said at a school board work session last week.

“I believe we’re presenting Calendar C in response to the pandemic, not necessarily as a permanent calendar for FCPS to have year-after-year,” he added.

Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said her organization and others represented on the task force were not notified that a third option had been proposed.

“We were very, very shocked and disappointed,”  she said. “We don’t feel that removing closures on four days in an entire school year is going to meaningfully address that issue (of learning loss).”

Marcy Schwab’s 16-year-old daughter is a junior at Marshall High School in Falls Church.

“The Jewish holidays fell during the week last year, and her chemistry teacher scheduled an exam … on Yom Kippur, which is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar,” said Schwab.

Her daughter respectfully asked her teacher to move the exam, and the teacher did, but a test review day was scheduled in its place. Schwab said her daughter decided that despite the importance of the holiday, she couldn’t miss out on the review.

Schwab said she knows how her kids and others have suffered over the past year, and they need to be back in school, in-person.

“That’s actually part of the point. We really want to make sure they have time in the classroom, and for the kids that celebrate those holidays, they need time in the classroom too,” she said.

Schwab thinks there are other ways that the school calendar can be rejiggered to allow for more class time.

A public hearing on the issue is set for March 4, and a final vote is scheduled for March 18.

Arlington and Prince William County public schools have included days off for all four holidays in their 2021-2022 school calendars. The Loudoun County Public Schools calendar for the next school year includes them too, with the exception of Rosh Hashana.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

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