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APS Superintendent proposes earlier start date, more instructional days for 2023-24

The Arlington Public Schools Syphax Education Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán is proposing an earlier start to school next fall and more instructional days than the current academic year.

If approved, the 2023-24 calendar would have 180 instructional days for all students and would start on Aug. 21, 2023. This year, elementary and high school students have 175 instructional days and middle schoolers have 174, falling under the state standard of 180 days and APS calendars pre-pandemic.

The proposal comes after APS received more than 7,100 responses from families and staff earlier this fall in a survey gauging approval of the current calendar and asking for input on three possible calendars for next year. Some respondents urged APS to align its calendar with neighboring jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County Public Schools, and others suggested reducing the number of cultural and religious holidays, per presentation materials for the upcoming School Board meeting this Thursday.

“It is important to align with neighboring districts for holidays and start day… so that our schools can be fully staffed with your teachers,” one respondent said, per a presentation.

Another said they “support the spirit of inclusiveness, but do not support APS adopting so many religious holidays.”

Durán’s proposal has the same start date for students as the proposed or approved calendars for many neighboring jurisdictions, except FCPS, which appears not to have a proposal yet.

Calendars for Arlington Public Schools and nearby jurisdictions (via APS)

Durán’s calendar starts a full week before the preference of many survey respondents and a calendar committee comprised of a group of principals, PTA members, teachers union representatives and central office staff. It has a longer winter break than these two calendars as well.

APS 2023-24 calendar options (via APS)

The School Board will receive more information on the preferred calendar and alternatives on Thursday. It is then slated to vote on Durán’s proposed 2023-24 calendar on Thursday, Dec. 15.

The proposed increase would mark a return to aspects of pre-pandemic calendars, something for which watchdog group Arlington Parents for Education has advocated over the last year. It says this is one way to address its focal point of learning loss.

“Abandoning our longstanding commitment to providing at least 180 days of school, especially given the historic learning loss currently facing APS students, is the wrong approach,” the group said in a recent calendar analysis. “Our students deserve for their school system to return to its historical practice of meeting both the 180-day and 990-hour Virginia state standards.”

Over the last 10 years, the APE says, 181 days has been the norm for student attendance days. APS dipped under 180 days during the 2020-21 school year, at the onset of the pandemic, and has not returned to 180 days since, it said.

APS calendars over the last 10 years (via Arlington Parents for Education)

A few years ago, APS began starting the school year before Labor Day after former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam authorized schools to start up to two weeks before the September holiday.

“Despite that change, APS has tended to start later than neighboring divisions,” the group said. “The result is fewer days of school for Arlington children.”

Comparative calendars for D.C. area public school systems for the 2022-23 school year (via Arlington Parents for Education)

Starting with the 2021-22 school year, APS also added four non-Christian religious holidays, a move to which some survey respondents objected.

The proposed 2023-24 calendar would observe Yom Kippur (Sept. 25) and Eid al-Fitr (April 10). This fall, APS took days off for Rosh Hashanah and Diwali, but those are not included in next year’s calendar, possibly because they are set to occur on weekends next fall.

“This look-back at 10 years of calendar history and the comparison of the current APS calendar with that of our neighbors indicates that whether it is an earlier start, later finish, use of federal holidays, or different patterns around winter break, APS has options for how it can meet 180 days,” APE said.

Durán proposes 31 days off for federal holidays, winter break, and religious holidays, as well as grade and reporting days.

Proposed days off for students in Arlington Public Schools (via APS)

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