Arlington students will still have Columbus Day off next year, after the School Board rejected a proposal to send students to class on the controversial holiday.
The Board unanimously adopted an attendance calendar for the 2019-2020 school year at its meeting last night (Thursday). Students will still get the chance to stay home on Oct. 14 this year, while staff will have the day set aside for “professional learning.”
Arlington Public Schools staff had proposed another option sending both students and staff to school on Columbus Day, putting the school system in line with the rest of the county government, which largely does not observe the holiday. Students would’ve had Oct. 7 off instead, and staff would use the day for training.
That option did attract some support from APS employees and students — 69 percent of staff approved of that calendar, according to an APS survey, while 76 percent of students said they liked it as well. Just 22 percent of staff and 14 percent of students said they supported the first option, though parents liked it a bit more. The status quo calendar earned support from 55 percent of parents, while the Columbus Day change garnered just 33 percent.
But Superintendent Patrick Murphy backed the calendar option maintaining Columbus Day as a student holiday instead, arguing that it provided fewer interruptions in the instructional calendar. It also better matches the calendar of other surrounding school systems, a key concern for APS employees who have children and live outside Arlington.
“This option is really similar to what we did this year, and most people felt like this worked, for the most part,” Erin Wales-Smith, interim assistant superintendent for human resources, told the Board at its Jan. 24 meeting.
Board members were initially skeptical of supporting a calendar that was so opposed by staff and students. But, in discussing the matter with staff, some members pointed out the second calendar, with Columbus Day no longer a holiday, appeared to show students and staff with more time off than the first calendar option did.
That difference could’ve accounted for some of the survey results, Board Vice Chair Tannia Talento reasoned. Staff ironed out that discrepancy in presenting the calendar options for the second time — now, students are set to see 30 days off next school year, as opposed to 29 under the rejected alternate plan.
Notably, the new school calendar also maintains Election Day as a day off for students, with staff doing off-site grade preparation.
The school system had a similar schedule in place last year, but the issue took on new urgency now that state lawmakers are advancing a bill to require all public schools to treat the first Tuesday in November as a holiday.