The New York City Department of Education faced strong backlash from the school community when it attempted to tweak its winter break this year, as its initial 2019-20 school calendar proposal had students attending school through Monday, Dec. 23, The Atlantic reports.
While New York City opted to include Dec. 23 in its break, several other districts nationwide tried shortening their winter breaks, including Chicago Public Schools, which scheduled school to start Jan. 2 to make up for missed days due to this year's teacher strike.
Most states require students to be in school a minimum of 180 days a year, and most Americans expect students to have about two weeks off during the holidays. The winter break is considered fair game for districts looking to add days due to unplanned days off.
Changes to school break schedules aren't decisions that should be taken lightly and require input from the school community at large. Adults — be they parents, teachers or other staff — plan their lives, and often childcare, around these breaks. Last-minute changes stack up to major headaches for those needing to rearrange plans and schedules to accommodate.
Earlier this month in Utica, Michigan, the Utica Community Schools tacked two days on to Christmas break in early December, leaving many working parents scrambling to secure childcare options. The district said the last-minute changes were due to negotiations with the teachers’ association.
There are similar responses to school bell schedule changes trending toward later starts for high schools and earlier starts for elementary students. In 2017, Seattle Public Schools was in the midst of altering schedules so high school and middle school students could get more sleep. The proposed changes were met with both praise and criticism.
There may, however, be ways to re-arrange schedules and periods that avoid major out-of-school shifts. For example, Furman Brown, CEO and co-founder of school schedule consultant Tegy, urges district leaders to rethink traditional schedules by considering class length changes for certain subjects and altering the number of periods in a day.
The Unlocking the Time Project, operated by education software firm Abl and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also provides resources for schools looking to alter schedules to create more flexible options. One of its ideas is to implement a regular flex time period.
Perhaps the trick to change is to make it so minimal it won’t be felt. Colorado Springs’ Academy District 20, for example, will add an extra 10 minutes to the end of each school day in order to meet its required hours, which were lost to unexpected snow days early in the year.