Hanover School Committee member; former education and public sector attorney; parent of three school-aged children
Public schools in Massachusetts have long had a one-week school vacation scheduled the third week in February, coinciding with the President’s Day holiday. This mid-winter vacation follows the approximately 12-day winter holiday break and the long Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend in January.
While February break is a New England tradition, some school districts have been critically examining whether it makes sense to continue it. For instance, many school districts in Rhode Island in recent years switched to an abbreviated vacation week, though due to COVID-19 the state this year mandated all districts provide a full week.
There are clear benefits to eliminating February vacation. Between Thanksgiving and March, learning is not only disrupted by holidays and vacation schedules, but also by inclement weather and illness.
In a typical winter month, students are in school slightly more than half the month. After accounting for days missed for inclement weather or illness, many children do not spend even half of the colder months in the classroom. This disjointed and unpredictable learning makes consistency in instruction difficult. It also gives students less face-to-face instruction time, and provides less opportunity for children on learning plans to receive in-school instructional services.
Moreover, eliminating the February break would also afford the opportunity for students to finish school earlier in June. Depending on when the school year starts and the number of canceled school days, students are often required to attend school into late June, when the weather is sunny and hot and classrooms — particularly in old school buildings — can be stifling. It is difficult to imagine teaching in those uncomfortably hot classrooms, or to be a student trying to focus on a lesson when your body is overheating. Eliminating February break would allow students to get out of school earlier and more fully enjoy the beautiful, but brief, New England summer.
While some may argue that children need a mid-winter break from school, the benefits of dropping this vacation — including enhancing the continuity of instruction and giving students and teachers a greater chance to relax during the warmer months — far outweigh any downsides. It’s time we made this common-sense change to the school calendar.
Salem resident; public school parent; school teacher
As the mother of two children in the Salem public schools, I do not think my district or others should eliminate February vacation.
Periodic breaks in the school year are beneficial for both teachers and students. It’s nice to be able to step away and regroup, mentally and physically, from school. Everyone can take some much-needed time to relax. And when you are out of school, germs that build up in groups of kids have a chance to dissipate.
I realize that my opinion comes from a place of privilege, in that I don’t depend on school for child care for my children while I work. I have family and a flexible schedule so the week does not bring much inconvenience to me. I also don’t worry about learning loss, or continuity of school services — food, counseling, stability — which I know is not the case for many. Yet I believe that with proper supports — for example having districts sponsor vacation week child care or camp — we can maintain a winter break that works for all families.
I know there are some who argue that eliminating February break — or as is sometimes discussed, dropping both winter and spring vacations and replacing them with a March vacation — would have the advantage of ending school sooner. But speaking as a parent, I believe there are quality-of-life benefits to keeping the current mid-winter vacation as it is. I like having a little extra time with my children, taking a break from the rush and bustle of the school routine for a bit, and, heaven forbid, even getting away to visit grandparents or go on an adventure. In my family, February vacation is a time to sleep in a little, go to a museum, head outside, and recharge. And I think it also gives teachers needed time to rest and enjoy their own families.
Although it is close to December vacation, the February and April vacations seem like good intervals for a break. Extending summer vacation would be nice, but it should not come at the expense of offering children and teachers a chance to take a needed breather at other times of the year.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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