Pasco schools try ‘something new’: 4-day weekends to limit absenteeism

Officials will encourage families to take trips when classes are not scheduled.

Tampa Bay Times | By Jeffrey S. Solochek | December 5, 2023

LAND O’LAKES — Pasco County school district officials hope that a plan to offer four-day weekends throughout the 2024-25 school year will boost efforts to keep kids coming when classes are in session.

Citing concerns that some families take trips on school days, the school board decided Tuesday to schedule “mini breaks” in October, February and April as a way to offer more options for planning vacations. These four-day weekends will come in addition to a week off for Thanksgiving in November, a two-week winter break in December and January, and a week off for spring break in March.

“It is different,” board chairperson Megan Harding said. “But we’re going to try something new.”

Harding noted that, as a former elementary school teacher, she frequently had children miss lessons because their families took trips.

The district has an average daily absence rate of about 5%, with students not attendingfor a variety of reasons. It also has seen a rise in students missing 10% of days, a rate deemedchronic absenteeism.

To combat the problem, which is a national concern, the Pasco district launched a campaign in September encouraging students and families to make attendance a priority.

Board member Colleen Beaudoin has stressed the importance of students getting as much time learning as possible. She noted that even with the four-day weekends, the newly approved 2024-25 calendar will provide more minutes for lessons than in the current year.

The district also took other steps toward that goal. It eliminated four half-days in the first semester, providing a single full day for teacher training instead. And it did not specify hurricane makeup days, leaving open the option to schedule as many as become necessary throughout the year.

“I want to make sure we do what is best for students making up instructional time,” Beaudoin said.

The time for teaching and for breaks was set up so schools can maximize the time before the state testing window opens in May, said Assistant Superintendent Kevin Shibley, who oversees the calendar. That’s why the school year is to begin on the first available weekday after Aug. 10, the earliest that state law permits public schools to begin classes.

Some people had asked the board to consider a later starting date.

Shibley said the district is looking for any ideas to help children miss as little school time as possible. He noted that few people sent in comments, and of those many were positive.

Don Peace, United School Employees of Pasco president, said members of the union noticed the several changes to the calendar, and were withholding judgment.

“If proper planning and considerations are made … this might work well,” Peace said, asking the board to have future conversations about the school calendar in the evening, so more people might be able to attend.

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