How The School Calendar Works

If you’ve ever met someone who has served on the Calendar Committee for our school district, or any other for that matter, they’ll tell you it is the most difficult committee to serve on. Lots of debate goes into this topic and though some committee members arrive with predetermined desires, they often abandon them once they realize the stipulations and impacts.

You may have seen this article recently or watched the story on the news.  https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/360/is-august-the-new-september-the-reason-behind-colorados-school-start-times

Having served on this committee twice and developed six years of calendars for Jeffco (Shawna), I want to explain a little of the process after seeing some comments on social media.

Who and How

Parents, educators, administrators, classified staff, and community members are all part of the committee. This is required by statute and there are a number of individuals in the room.

First, each Calendar Committee covers 3 years of future calendars. It’s really helpful if you pull up this calendar to look at the structure and so you can refer back to it as you read through this – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1OKhTzVVqBmmF1f7YSntPXnZ39uI9Hisa/view.

We divide the calendar into 2 parts (thinking of summer and winter breaks.) There are several policies from both the board, district, and state that have to be followed and you have to add in consideration to CHSAA (athletics) as well as time for testing season.

A survey of families, education staff, and the community has always been done and the committee does read all the comments.  Three years ago, the calendar committee had overwhelming feedback that families had a hard time with early release days on Wednesdays. The early release days were moved to Fridays and then, again based on feedback, consolidated into full off days rather than any early release days – combining professional development for staff into one full day and eliminating early release days entirely. However, individual schools added back early release days into their own individual school calendars. Probably not a good move based on family feedback, but that’s why you see early releases at some schools. If you’re bothered by that, your school accountability committee is the place to go to provide that feedback.

Considering students in secondary education (middle and high schools), the calendar committee needs semesters to be evenly divided so students have equal learning time for classes  in each semester. The total number of days our Jeffco students attend is 175. This is based, roughly, on hours per school year required by the state 1080 for secondary students and 980 hours for primary students. https://www.cde.state.co.us/standardsandinstruction/instruc-time-req.

Most schools are actually providing more than the required number of hours required by the state. They all differ slightly as the transportation system we have includes buses shared in different articulation areas so individual schools often must adjust for the needs of transporting students to and from school. If we had additional buses and ongoing funding to replace old ones as needed, we could simplify times for all schools but that’s another problem and another topic.

The district calendar page has the additional statutes and policies if you’d like to read them – “Each school year calendar has a set number of teacher work days and teacher/student contact days in accordance with state law (CRS 22-32-109 (n)) and District Policy IC – ICA.”

The number of days for educators is 185 contractually and the calendar committee has to create calendars for both students and for staff. Consideration must be given to setting up classrooms, cleaning out classrooms, as well as time for professional development and parent teacher conference times (mid-semester).

Back to the feedback from families, staff, and the community.

A few of the common themes seen in both calendar committees:

  • Families would like to start after Labor Day.
  • Families would like to end before Memorial Day.

School districts cannot adhere to both of these requests and still comply with the required hours per statute.

  • Families do want winter breaks and summer breaks.
  • Some people believe we should have year round school.

Again, school districts cannot adhere to both of these requests at the same time. Additionally, contractual issues would need to be addressed should Jeffco decide to apply year-round schooling and additional funding to keep buildings open year-round is another consideration.

Attendance Issue Considerations

Attendance issues are also factored in decisions by the Calendar Committee. For instance, if winter break doesn’t start soon enough, families often pull their children from schools to begin their travel. The Thanksgiving break is another issue as well; if families are not given the entire week, the absences increase, resulting in a larger workload for educators as they are still responsible for educating students on the content that they missed due to absences. Spring break is the same.

On the Calendar Committee three years ago, a school social worker brought forth evidence and documentation regarding increased anxiety for students during the long stretch of school after Labor Day through Thanksgiving break due to no days off. Her recommendation was a mini-break for students in October, which is why a day or two off mid-October was added. The calendar committee tried very hard to align that break with Halloween when our youngest students are exhausted on November 1st but ultimately decided the break should occur at the mid-point between breaks.

The absence rate for students after Memorial Day was extremely high so the end result is pushing the school year into August.

Snow Days

Even longer than three years ago, family feedback was that they wanted snow days eliminated from the district calendar. The way this is structured currently to adhere to that was to apply potential make-up days needed to days that are currently off for students but where educators attend for professional development. If those dreaded yet wonderful snow days interfere with the number of required hours for students, we won’t be taking those days off and educators will then have extra days added onto the end of their year for professional development.

The End Result

The end result of the calendar is that we have 84 student contact days during the first semester and 91 during the second semester. Because state testing, AP testing, IB testing, and end of the year events (graduations, field day, celebrations) occur during the second half of the year, our calendar is now balanced.

It’s a lot of work and a lot of debate. Ultimately, the committee members seem to arrive at a conclusion based on what makes sense in best providing services and what is best for children.

Finally, yes, it’s hot outside and very few schools have adequate air conditioning. There are so many ways to invest if we want to change things but ultimately it does require an investment.