WASHINGTON – Schoolwork takes a holiday on the days leading up to Thanksgiving — and most state school systems don’t fight it.
At a time when students may be concentrating on turkey feasts and shopping, it can be difficult to get them to concentrate on reading and writing, or even get them in class at all if parents want to leave early for Thanksgiving trips.
So only a handful of districts insist that students be in class through Wednesday afternoon. A majority of districts cancel classes Wednesday and three nix Monday and Tuesday, too.
“We’re trying to eliminate the throwaway days,” said Anne Arundel County school board member Tricia Johnson. “We really want the instruction time to be instruction time. We want to maximize as much as we can — like those last days before holidays.”
Anne Arundel is one of the jurisdictions that canceled classes all week. It scheduled parent-teacher conferences and teacher workshops for the Monday and Tuesday, and gave everyone the day off on Wednesday. It helps that this week coincides with the end of the marking period.
“We would have a lot of people (skip), especially if we end school on a Monday or Tuesday,” Johnson said. “They think there’s not much going on.”
Other districts said they also take advantage of the slack time to hold teacher-training days, which minimizes absences and last-minute travel headaches.
But some districts will be going straight through to Thursday, as they try to squeeze in enough instructional hours between holidays and standardized testing. Montgomery, Frederick and Washington counties and Baltimore City will stay open.
“We use the time the best that we can,” said Rosemarie Pellegrino, principal at Pleasant Valley Elementary School in Washington County. “We only have those 180 days.”
Some students will leave early for family Thanksgiving plans. But while absentee rates do not skyrocket around the holidays, educators said, it is a given that attendance falls.
Joseph Millward, coordinator of student services for Cecil County schools, said the typical daily attendance rate — about 94 percent — drops to about 90 percent on the days before and after Thanksgiving break. Cecil County gives students Wednesday off.
Millward said parents do not need to worry about creating phony excuses to pull their children out of school. The county allows five days a year for “parent vacation days,” excused absences for traveling students. The students can make up work without penalties.
“We build in those days to allow families some wiggle room, to allow them to do what they want to do,” he said. “But if they’re taking a three-week vacation, two of those weeks are going to be lies.”
Like Anne Arundel, Prince George’s County gives its students the whole week off and focuses on staff development Monday and Tuesday.
“Attendance was sometimes low on Wednesday,” said Susan Hubbard, chairwoman of the calendar committee for Prince George’s County schools. “We basically did the Wednesday out of consideration. . . . It’s chaotic to say the least, especially if you’re driving eight or nine hours.”
The travel argument does not appear to carry much weight with school planners in the counties where kids will be in school until 3 p.m. Wednesday.
“We’ve always been open,” said Marita Stup Loose, spokeswoman for Frederick County schools. “We do a see a bit of a spike in absenteeism on Wednesday. Oftentimes it’s students leaving a little early rather than taking the entire day off.”
Pellegrino said her school tries to remind parents to arrange their schedules around the school calendar.
“What teachers do is basically try to stick to routine,” she said. “When you get things out of routine it makes it difficult for students to learn.”
Teachers try to keep students interested by tying Thanksgiving into meaningful curriculum, Pellegrino said — not by having parties or days filled with easy schoolwork.
Johnson agreed that that is what needs to be done, especially as schools try to meet growing accountability standards.
“When I was a kid, there seemed like there were a lot of those days” during which students and teachers did not get much accomplished, Johnson said. “And Thanksgiving was a big one.”