After one year of an August start, Philadelphia School District students will return to class on the Tuesday after Labor Day in 2019.
The Board of Education made the calendar change official Thursday night, endorsing the administration’s proposal to begin school next year on Sept. 3, returning the district to a pattern it had observed for as long as anyone could remember.
In a surprise move, the board declined to vote on a calendar for 2020-21. The board said it wanted to explore some parent concerns that the proposed 2020 calendar built in too long of a winter break; members said they would revisit the issue.
School officials moved to an August start this year because they wanted to maximize instructional time before state exams in the spring, among other reasons. But that shift angered many, and an especially hot late August and early September complicated the start of the school year, with multiple days of canceled classes because of the heat.
Thousands responded to a survey seeking input on a new calendar, said chief schools officer Shawn Bird. Among those who weighed in, respondents asked for school breaks to rest and spend time with their families. They also asked the district to be mindful of cultural and religious holidays, and said they wanted to be finished with the school term by June 12 or 13.
As a result, the 2019-20 calendar returns the district to a full week for spring break. Winter break is also an entire week. The school year will end for students June 12.
The 2020-21 calendar proposed by administrators would have had students return to school Aug. 31 — Labor Day is late in 2020 — and would have given students and staff a full two weeks of winter break.
That would be problematic for many families, said parent Cecilia Thompson.
Thompson worries what students who rely on school breakfasts and lunches to eat would do without those meals for two weeks. She also had concerns about a long disruption to special education students' education.
And, she said, there’s the matter of what working parents would do with their children over such a long break.
“Child care is extremely expensive,” said Thompson.
Sentiments were split among those who responded to the district’s survey, Bird said. Some parents said they wanted their children home for a long stretch for the holidays.
“There were people who said it would be a burden,” said Bird.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the district would work with its partners to make sure food is available over break for hungry students, as it does during the summer recess.
Another parent asked the board to consider closing schools for the lunar new year. Officials said they did their best to balance the need for 180 instructional days with a desire to give students off for important religious and community holidays, but could not accommodate every request.
Board members Mallory Fix Lopez and Julia Danzy said the district needs to examine how to reach more community members on their priorities for a school schedule; both were concerned some families were not able to make their voices heard before the draft 2020-21 calendar was developed.
The board said it was mindful of the need to give families time to plan, but did not set a timeline for when the 2020-21 calendar might be revisited.