When should school start? Fairfax Co. begins work on 2023-24 calendar

Virginia’s largest school system has started developing its calendar for the next school year, unveiling four possible options Tuesday that have different break lengths and end dates.

At a work session, Fairfax County Public Schools also detailed calendar options for the next three school years, though it’s unclear whether the school board will vote to approve a short or long-term calendar at its meeting next month.

The choices were developed considering the superintendent and school board’s perspectives, information from a calendar feedback committee, other school systems’ calendars, and student and staff absentee data, county officials said.

Virginia law also requires a school calendar to include 180 days or 990 hours of instruction.

Chief Operating Officer Marty Smith said “there is no perfect calendar.”

All of the calendars include more five-day school weeks than are in the 2022-23 academic calendar, responding to criticism that shorter weeks present an obstacle to keeping students on track after the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Board member Melanie Meren said the five-day instructional weeks are essential because “it was a very difficult fall for too many families, staff and students, especially in the first quarter where routines are being set.”

“I’m interested in the calendar that does the most to sustain academic learning,” Meren said.

The four options, called Blue, Orange, Green and Purple versions, have different end dates or break lengths.

Draft 2023-24 Fairfax County Public School calendars. (Courtesy Fairfax County Public Schools)

The Blue Option starts Aug. 21 and ends June 14, with winter break 11 school days long. The Orange Option starts Aug. 21 and ends June 11, with winter break eight school days long.

The Green Option begins Aug. 28 and ends June 20, with an eight school day winter break. The Purple Option begins Aug. 21 and ends June 13, with an 11 school day winter break. That option has 177 instructional days.

The 2022-23 school year calendar included more time off for religious holidays, and the draft options account for many of the same holidays, such as Yom Kippur and Eid-al-Fitr.

County employees, according to survey results, weren’t willing to shorten winter or spring break, but families and community members reported a willingness to shorten winter break by a day and have school the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Students also reported being open to shortening spring break by one day.

Superintendent Michelle Reid said Tuesday that it’s important to consider school schedules in neighboring jurisdictions during the calendar development process, because “we share staff. Many of our families who are staff here might be families in another division, or we have families here that are staffing another division, so we split people, which affects attendance.”

Surrounding jurisdiction calendars for the 2023-24 school year. (Courtesy Fairfax County Public Schools)

Board member Karl Frisch said he only plans to support a calendar that accounts for the next three years.

“I’m not going to support some effort to plan something for next year, and maybe the year after, only to be back in this process in short order,” Frisch said.

The school board is planning another work session to discuss calendar development, and has a final vote scheduled for Feb. 9.

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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