Sunday, October 11, 2015



In my perfect world, K-12 districts and community and state colleges would agree on which holidays to observe.  When they disagree, both students and employees with children are put in a tough spot.

The sectors already agree on a few greatest hits.  Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day are pretty much inviolate.  The Fourth of July is easy, since it’s off-peak for both.  They even both observe New Year’s Day, which has always struck me as a bit contrived, but it sticks.  The beauty of the greatest hits is that everyone knows they’re coming, so everyone makes other plans.  They reduce stress.

Some places have distinctly regional holidays.  Massachusetts has one called “Evacuation Day” that I don’t think anyone else observes, and another called “Patriot’s Day” that’s similar.  When I moved there I asked folks the origin stories for each, but nobody knew.  

Patriot’s Day caused issues at the college, since most K-12 districts planned their Spring Break around it.  (There, the standard for K-12 was a week in February and a week in April. The standard for higher ed was a week in March.  Yes, it created family issues.)  When a significant chunk of the student body has childcare responsibilities, and the days don’t align, you get increased absenteeism.  It made for some difficult scheduling, especially around lab sciences, where setup and takedown take time and resources.  Mismatches add stress.

Here, the mismatches are many and striking.  Many of the local K-12 schools close for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; the college doesn’t.  They close for Columbus Day; the college doesn’t.  And they have an astonishing number of “professional development” half-days at random intervals.  TB and TG are in their sixth week of school; five of the six have been short, and that’s without a single weather event.  (This week is short due to Columbus Day.)  The district has a good reputation, and it seems great, when it’s open.  But it’s closed for a surprising amount of time.  When parents count on school for de facto childcare -- which they do -- each new mismatch is a fresh crisis.  When the mismatches come on a weekly basis, it’s hard not to ascribe motive.  They’re assuming the existence of stay-at-home Moms, and making life difficult for families without a stay-at-home parent.  Absent that, such staccato rhythms are hard to plan around.

You’d think that making decisions about holidays would be easy, but it isn’t.  When holidays cluster on Mondays, you get into issues of assuring equal time for Monday classes.  (Labor Day and Columbus Day are always on Mondays, for instance, as is Martin Luther King day.)  If you observe Christian holidays but nobody else’s, you send a message that people who observe other holidays will notice.  If you try to widen the net, you get into “if x, why not y?” discussions for which there’s no great answer.  “Floating holidays” or personal days are more elegant on the employer side, but they don’t do anything for students who have kids.  They also don’t bring the same level of peace as fully-observed holidays do, since even if you take a day, the college is still running.  Work is still building up for your return.  The great gift of shared holidays is that everyone stops at the same time.

That’s why I’d like to see more widespread agreement on which days to take.  We don’t run into these conflicts on the days that everyone takes.  Nobody expects schools or colleges to be open on Labor Day, so people make other plans for that day.  

In calling for agreement, I’m trying to separate the issue of which days to take.  For example, I’d have no issue with saying “let’s observe days for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but then stop observing Columbus Day to help make up for it.”  That would strike me as reasonable.  But that’s really a second-order discussion.  The first issue is just acknowledging that there’s something to be gained by seeking agreement.  Right now, with different sectors going in drastically different directions, the burden of filling in the gaps falls on parents, whether as employees or as students.  I don’t recall ever voting on that, or even having that conversation.  

As I keep waiting for the kids to have their second full week of school, I’m thinking maybe it’s time to have that conversation.

Patriots' Day - commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord.

Evacuation Day - commemorates the British evacuation of Boston during the Revolution.
I don't know if this is a particularly Southern thing, or a "right to work" state thing (Virginia is both), but the state colleges and universities here do not recognize Labor Day as a holiday, even though K-12 does.

Teacher work days and early release days are plentiful here, too. the saving grace here is that a private company partnered with the school system to provide before and after school care at a number of the public school sites, and they provide a place for kids to go on such days and most snow days.
This has been a perennial issue for me on both sides of the argument. I'd love to see something like a handful of holidays like Labor Day, et. al. and then no others with the caveat that employees and students may choose to observe others without penalty. So, Jewish student and/or employee can take Rosh Hashanah, but the rest of us don't. It allows for non Judeo Christian holidays to be observed as well. And maybe you have to put a limit on them, but it would mean full weeks of school for most students. Certainly, different locales may want to add in a few holidays that are more commonly taken than others, but really, should we be adding in 3 or 4 state holidays in addition to the national ones?

As far as I know, Evacuation Day is only observed in Suffolk County, and even there, those who are granted the day off have been cut over the years (e.g. State employees who work in Boston no longer are given this as a day off).

The schools in general still think that everyone has a stay-at-home mom. In addition to the early release days, my town gives early release days for conferences--6 a year, even though the teachers accommodate those who can't come between 1-4 by giving conferences at off times. Some years, we've had up to 13 early release days for either professional development or conferences, in addition to a couple of full days for professional development. My town also observes one day for Yom Kippur and two days for Rosh Hashanah, although there are plenty of Jewish folks who say they don't observe the second day (some of it might be driven by teachers who would like to observe both). We also get Good Friday.

Normally, in 41 weeks that my kids are in school (in MA), there are only 15-17 weeks where we have 5 full days, and that isn't even touching the snow days, which I understand can't be scheduled. I'd love it if there was just a bit more synchronization with the calendars.
Yes, please! My husband works for a federal contractor and while he could've worked today and banked hours, he stayed home. I would've loved the day off. Even in higher ed, my former employer is closed for Yom Kippur but my current isn't. Both are located in and have a very high population of observant Jews.

Thankfully, my kid is still in daycare but I honestly don't know how we will handle the crazy half days that loom in the future. Someone could make a killing on that kind of day care service.
I just checked, and it looks like they've changed it, but back when I was at Indiana University, not only did we not get Labor Day off, but the first day of classes were usually scheduled for Labor Day. This meant that instructors who were indignant at the implied insult to our nation's workers and its labor history couldn't even cancel classes. It always infuriated me.

I don't even have children, and the early release days in the public schools bug me when I see students getting off the school bus before noon. I teach those kids when they get to college, and I can tell you, they need all the full days in school they can get!
"Nobody expects schools or colleges to be open on Labor Day..."

I take leave to differ. IU Bloomington holds classes on Labor Day, as does Manchester College (in Manchester, Indiana), both for the same reason. Both schools have a large number of first-time-in-the-family college students from small towns (or farms). They discovered that a significant percentage of first-year students were not coming back from being home for Labor Day. Labor Day holiday. At both schools, it significantly reduced that factor as an attrition factor. (The lack of a Labor Day holiday was true at least into the early 2000s and is still true today so far as I know.)
The local school districts in our county have several different schedules, since they start as much as 3 weeks apart. The community college (semester system) and UCSC (semester-in-a-quarter system) have starting and ending dates a month apart. The breaks between quarters and between semesters in the multitude of different schedules make for huge differences in when children and their parents have breaks.

Incidentally, the way to avoid students disappearing during Labor Day weekend and not coming back is to start school after Labor Day. You may still lose them at Thanksgiving or Winter break, of course.
Several k-12 districts I've worked in have a weekly or fortnightly early release/late start day for Professional Development. I have no idea how that works for childcare, but we consider those "normal" weeks. Some do it as infrequently as monthly, but every place I've worked does it in some fashion or other.

The reason this is done is generally so you can have department meetings/trainings with all of the teachers present, since it's generally impossible to schedule a school such that there is no math class second period so all the math teachers can meet together, and third period is the English prep, and so forth. Also, sometimes we'll meet cross-group (9th grade teachers meet to talk about 9th graders, 10th with 10th graders, and so on) so it really does need to be a time everyone's not teaching.

We don't have the college-level luxury of only teaching maybe 10 hours a week and thus being able to have department meetings at some time or other that classes aren't offered in that department, or at least when most people are free, without it being obvious to students and parents. Think of those early release/late start days as like the "protected meeting time" that some colleges have where there's a specific 2 hour block on Fridays or something when there are no classes scheduled. It's just that because we're stuck being babysitters as well as teaching content, more people notice when we need to do it than when you do.
The high school my sister went to had a month off at Christmas (5-6 weeks) because so many of the students would go back to Mexico to visit family that there was no point in starting until everyone was back.
Anon 2:33 - I think no one would care if schools took half days off if the students had a place to go that we didn't have to pay an arm and a leg for. After school care for a student in my kids' district costs $11 per hour or $500 per kid per month. That's quite a chunk of change. When they have no daycare on in-service days, what are we supposed to do? The local YMCA is some help but that costs about $90 per day. My school takes 32 days off each school year and I have 27 days of PTO (which is generous!) Without a partner, I'm not sure how I would do it.

And while I sympathize with your view that it must be easier for people who have "only 10 hours of instruction" to complete in a given week there's a lot more prep work both before and after those hours that goes into a college class and most professors with that load are also doing research which takes a not inconsiderable amount of time (50+ hours weekly) in addition. It can be very difficult to have time for faculty to meet because of their obligations outside the classroom. My department solved that problem by not scheduling classes from 1:30-2:30 on Thursdays so we had time to meet but not every group has that luxury.
After school care for a student in my kids' district costs $11 per hour or $500 per kid per month. That's quite a chunk of change.

I find this interesting, because child care costs are similar where I work, and work out to less than the budget my school board gets per child for a far longer amount of babysitting.

People bitch endlessly about how public school is too expensive, teachers are overpaid, etc — and yet the per child cost of child care (without instruction, sports, music, etc.) is greater than the per child cost of public education. How is it that the school system is "too expensive" when it is providing a superior product at a cheaper price?

My school system gets six PA/PD days a year, two weeks at Christmas and a week in the spring, plus stat holidays. 32 sounds like a huge amount. And we have parents who drop their kids off on PA days, leaving us to provide childcare for them anyway. (And we don't get to charge $90 per kid.)

while I sympathize with your view that it must be easier for people who have "only 10 hours of instruction" to complete in a given week there's a lot more prep work both before and after those hours that goes into a college class

In terms of comparing college to school, I've taught at both and my weekly workload is far higher at a public school than it was at a community college. Less prep work per classroom hour, but because I don't have the time for it not because it isn't needed. (A class of 30 can have 10 special needs students in it who are mandated to have modified programs, which means I'm really preparing 11 lessons per period. Which is impossible, but it's what I'm supposed to do.) Add in coaching, running clubs, contacting parents, and all the stuff that wasn't required at college but is expected in a public school, and I'm pulling close to 60 hours a week.
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