Fairfax Co. School Board approves academic calendar with additional days off for religious holidays

Virginia’s largest school system has approved a calendar for the next academic school year that features more time off for religious holidays and includes Veterans Day as a student holiday.

Ten Fairfax County School Board members voted Thursday night to adopt the proposed calendar, with two abstaining.

The school system says the calendar aligns with those surrounding districts use and includes more holiday observance days.

The county’s calendar planning process has been contentious in the past, with community religious leaders expressing frustration that the 2021-2022 academic year calendar didn’t give students off for holidays such as Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Eid and Diwali. As a result, the school board modified its process by seeking input from a designated calendar feedback committee.

“This calendar has been a collaborative effort between staff, students, families and our community, and it truly supports our strategic plan goals of Student Success, Caring Culture, Premier Workforce, and Resource Stewardship,” said School Board Chair Stella Pekarsky.

The 2022-2023 school year will begin Aug. 22. Thanksgiving break is scheduled for Nov. 23-25, winter break from Dec. 19 to Jan. 2 and spring break from April 3-7.

Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Orthodox Good Friday and Diwali have been designated as student holidays; Eid and Lunar New Year, which the school system recognizes as holidays, fall on nonschool days.

Veterans Day will be a student holiday and staff work day, the county said.

“Tonight’s vote is a game-changer; it will have an immediate, dramatic impact on FCPS’ Jewish students and employees, as well as those of other minority faiths, who for the first time will feel that they have been truly seen and heard,” said Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

The school system also announced a change in its approach to “O” days, revising existing policy to allow new instruction on days deemed religious and cultural observances. Tests, quizzes and tryouts that can’t be rescheduled remain prohibited.

“Developing the school year calendar is both art and science, as it involves a careful balance of multiple considerations,” said Superintendent Scott Brabrand. “Our staff worked very hard to get this calendar right. We believe it is the best option to serve our families, staff, and students in the coming school year.”

The full calendar is available online.

Test-to-stay begins next week

Fairfax County is planning to launch test-to-stay programs at seven schools Monday, a spokeswoman said.

The participating schools include South Lakes, Robinson, Katherine Johnson Middle School, Glasgow Middle School, Bush Hill Elementary School, Baileys Primary and Hybla Valley Elementary School.

The launch comes as part of a statewide pilot program first detailed in December.

Test-to-stay allows unvaccinated students deemed close contacts of someone who tests positive to remain in school instead of quarantining at home. The process requires exposed students to take a rapid test every morning for five days after being exposed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fully vaccinated students exposed to someone who tests positive for the coronavirus don’t need to quarantine unless they develop symptoms.

The school system says eligible students must be unvaccinated, asymptomatic and identified as a close contact through exposure that occurred at school, doing school-sponsored extracurricular activities or during bus transportation to or from instruction.

Dr. Gigi Gronvall, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the concept of test-to-stay is “fantastic” because it avoids unnecessary quarantines but noted it may be “harder to implement than people realize.”

“It’s certainly better than keeping people at home for four or five days unnecessarily because it’s really important for kids to be at school,” Gronvall said.

Prince William County and Arlington schools are among other Virginia school systems that announced intentions to launch a test-to-stay program.

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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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