Monday, October 09, 2000

Surprise! No school

My kids are off today. No school for them. Nice little three day weekend. Once upon a time, they might have been getting off for Columbus Day, but honoring that guy who cheated the Indians out of their land is now kind of un-PC, so they’re getting off for Yom Kippur. When I was a kid, I remember being jealous of my Jewish classmates because they got days off for their holidays while everybody else had to go to school. Now I guess the kids are jealous of their Muslim classmates for the same reason. At my kids’ school last year, the place was always half full on Ramadan and whatever other days the local Islamic community felt were appropriate. But everybody gets off on Yom Kippur.

Except, of course, parents. Presumably Jewish parents get the day off for the holiday, or have reason to take a personal day, but the rest of us are left scrambling. These little random one- or two-day breaks are killers. First off, unless you’re super-organized, you forget about them until shortly before they occur. Then, you have to find coverage. Schools seem to wilfully ignore the fact that to many, many parents, they are day care. Working parents count on having their kids taken care of from 8:45 to 3. What are we supposed to do when the place randomly closes down?

The first few months are full of these inconvenient pauses. Upcoming days off include a staff development day (can’t they develop themselves on weekends?), a day off for election day (what’s a few strangers roaming the halls? Keep those kids in class so their parents have time to vote!), two days off for a teacher’s conference (again: What are weekends for?), followed by the more traditional half day and two full days off for Thanksgiving. December, of course, contains a whole week off for Christmas, as well as--in this part of the country, anyway--assorted snow days.

And given those snow days, you’d think the school would be more conservative about all its other, more marginal days off. There have been years when school had to go longer because unexpected, weather-induced days off caused the students to attend fewer than the mandatory number of days. Last year, at least, the days off for flooded classrooms came before the day off for staff development, so the staff went undeveloped for the year. But usually, by the time a few snowflakes fall and the school board panics and shuts down, those silly little unecessary days off have already gone off. And so the school starts to threaten that they’ll take days off spring break if necessary.

You know spring break. That’s the week that parents plan for their kids to be off, and so schedule vacations. Those days, the school feels free to reclaim. It’s only days when it’s inconvenient that they set the kids free. It makes you wonder: Are any of the people making these decisions actually parents?

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