Update: The revised calendar for the 2017-18 school year was approved by the School Board Wednesday, April 19. Goodbye, half days. Hello, a week of Thanksgiving holiday.
Palm Beach County’s public schools may be getting rid of all those half-days that send parents scrambling to readjust their schedules when their kids go to school late or come home early.
Instead, students and teachers could be getting a full five days off during the Thanksgiving holiday week.
The big changes are part of a proposed new school calendar approved by the school district’s calendar committee and presented to school board members Wednesday.
The board is scheduled to vote on the new calendar on April 19. If approved, it would jettison the county’s long-standing tradition of scheduling half-days throughout the year to give teachers time for training and professional development.
This year, the county’s public schools scheduled seven half-days, in which high school students start late and elementary and middle students leave early.
But Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said the shortened days are detested by many parents, teachers and administrators, who find them disruptive and inefficient.
Students are more likely to skip school on those days, he said, and some schools dealt with the shortened days by scheduling 20-minute classes.
“What are you going to do in 20-minute periods?” Avossa said. “Over time, (the shortened days) may have lost their focus.”
Indeed, a school district analysis found that students were far more likely — sometimes more than twice as likely — to be absent on half-days than on regular days..
The revamped school calendar, which has been endorsed by the teachers union, turns those half-days into full days and offsets the extra time by closing school during the entire Thanksgiving holiday week.
The new calendar has one less school day (179 days instead of this year’s 180) but slightly more instructional time.
“It’s more consistent instructional time,” said Amity Schuyler, the school district’s communications chief, who oversaw the efforts to redraw the calendar.
Classes would begin Aug. 14 and end June 1 under the proposal.
As part of the plan, students would no longer have Veterans Day off, but officials say part of the day will be dedicated to lessons about the history of the nation’s military.
By reducing the school calendar by a day, school district officials estimate they will save $175,000 in gas and electricity costs. Schuyler said she thinks the weeklong Thanksgiving break could be a selling point for job candidates as the district looks to hire teachers.
If a day or two are lost to hurricane cancellations, the school district would likely not make up those days since the school year already includes more instructional time than the state requires.
But if a hurricanes caused extensive school cancellations, the schools would make up the lost time by adding on makeup days at the end of the school year, Schuyler said.
School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw cheered the plan, which he said “meets a lot of our needs.”
“A lot of the absenteeism that the schools experience on those half-days will go away,” he said.