It’s Time to Rethink School Calendars

Judith Cabelli
Age of Awareness
Published in
4 min readNov 3, 2021

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It’s not the 1950s anymore. It’s time for equity to matter.

A school block desk calendar for September 2nd

It seems obvious today’s typical public school calendar is based on the antiquated single working parent household structure. Those bygone days of the freshly made up housewife while dad trots off to work with a briefcase. In many parts of the country, the fact is, the majority of households now consist of two parents or one single parent who work outside the home. On top of that, numerous households that have low-income often work more than one job to make ends meet.

It is time for school systems to pivot to reflect the values of today’s society. Our schools should consider how to get closer to 8 hour school days to more closely mirror the time parents and caregivers spend outside the home. It is the time to be creative and rethink what education should mean for our families and our children.

Importantly, our administrators and school boards should prioritize our calendars and schedules based on what makes sense for today’s values, not the 1950s and old societal constructs.

Additionally, our students need more time during the school day that allows for social and emotional well-being. Our students need more time to play and be together with friends. They need more time outside. They need more time to just simply be kids without screens. This requires more time for the school day. More often than not, educators spend so much time teaching to tests, they have little time to allow creativity and movement for students as result.

Our school calendars, be they designed around quarters, trimesters or semesters, should be created in a way that makes sense for the educational process. For too many decades, our calendars have followed the same patterns. Taking off days at the same time of year. Aligning school breaks with the same Christian holidays — Christmas and Easter. All too often this results in awkward, clunky weeks and months with numerous four day school weeks immediately leading up to or following two weeks off around Christmas or one week off around Easter.

Sadly, our local school district recently put out a disappointing school calendar survey. The beginning of the survey indicated the values that would guide the calendar development. This included that it would “…have a secular reason when considering holidays or days off.” Yet, there was a question about timing spring break specifically to Easter. Last I checked, Easter was very much a Christian religious holiday. This felt hypocritical to read the juxtaposition of the guidance and this question. From a minority faith perspective, this was particularly painful. Further, it felt that the school system completely misunderstood the notion of “secular,” as those of us in minority faith know all too often happens.

To make a truly non-secular calendar, we would need to decouple winter and spring breaks from Christmas and Easter. Including a week or two aligned with Christmas or Easter would inherently prevent a school calendar from being secular. We could instead treat those as one day off/ three day weekends just like Federal holidays. This would enable us to actually follow a secular calendar. In many ways this would result in a much more effective and equitable academic calendar overall. In all likelihood, this would allow more natural school breaks that could be timed with the academic calendar. The result would likely be less choppy and better for teachers and students.

Yet, I recognize that one school district making a change like this would potentially cause issues and be ineffective overall. In my area, for example, numerous teachers live in one school district and have children who are students in another. Our school district decoupled spring break for complicated reasons this year and the challenges this will pose for many teachers and administrators alone will be difficult. Therefore, it would likely be necessary for a broader movement to enable true, equitable, lasting change with respect to school calendars.

That said, my point in raising the ideas herein is that we need to begin to think radically about what elements of our current calendars work well for the educational values of today and what elements are no longer serving us.

Humans are creatures of habit. We’ve followed school calendars like this for so long. Yet, when is the last time we’ve paused to truly evaluate them? Now is the time for a positive change. We see the importance and value of equity now more than ever. We know how important it is to have smooth calendars that make sense from an educational standpoint. Reconsidering how we create our school calendars from a values standpoint is critical to ensure we provide the best education for our students. It is critical to ensure we best meet the needs of our families. And it is a critical step forward toward achieving equity in our schools.

Judith Cabelli is a passionate leader committed to advancing housing affordability, social justice and racial equity. She is motivated by fairness and equity for all and the belief that access to food, housing and health care are human rights. She is a voracious reader and an aspiring writer. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia with her husband, daughter, son and their crazy dog Lila.

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Judith Cabelli
Age of Awareness

A passionate leader committed to housing affordability, social justice and racial equity.