Philadelphia students will begin the school year a little later this year.
Instead of starting the week before Labor Day, which has been the case for the last five years, students will return the Tuesday after the holiday.
The earlier return led to widespread heat-related closures at the start of this school year, since most of the city’s schools don’t have central air.
“Beginning school after Labor Day avoids possible school closures due to excessive heat,” officials said in board documents. “These closures exacerbate inequities between schools that have air conditioning and those that do not.”
Officials said moving forward, the district will attempt to start every school year after Labor Day, but that it won’t always be possible due to existing requirements.
There must be 181 school days for students within the district’s annual payroll contract from Aug. 16 to June 15. As a result, classes will start before Labor Day during the 2024-25 school year in order to meet requirements and still allow for winter and spring breaks.
Calendars for the next two school years were approved in a 6-2 board vote Thursday night with members Lisa Salley and Cecelia Thompson voting against. Board member Leticia Egea-Hinton was absent.
Thompson said she was concerned by the 2024-25 calendar’s two-week long winter break.
She said the extended recess will create an “impossible decision” for families who can’t afford to take that much time off from work.
“I went to several low-income housing areas and they were not aware of this,” Thompson said. “For them this would be a hardship.”
Evelyn Nuñez, associate superintendent of elementary schools, said the district collected extensive parent, teacher, and community feedback when creating the calendars.
The district held 18 feedback sessions and nearly 4,000 people responded to an online survey, she said.
Officials did not say whether respondents were asked about the two-week winter break, but they did ask how respondents felt about half days.
“Feedback from families indicated that half days are a hardship for parents and create extensive childcare challenges,” officials said in board documents.
Staff respondents also noted half days often feel rushed and have low student attendance. Officials said they cut the number of half days each year from ten to five in response.
“We recognize that any time off will have an impact on families and as such we’ve already started to engage with the city,” Nuñez said responding to Thompson’s concern over the two-week break.
“We’re going to continue to have conversations with the city to ensure that we can provide safe environments for students to go to when our schools are closed,” she said.
Holidays will also look different in future years. Schools will no longer close for Veterans Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, or Diwali, but will close for Lunar New Year and Eid al-Adha.
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