Some students, parents left asking: What holiday?

January 1, 2012

Nevermind that it’s a federal holiday. And nevermind that the vast majority of Washington area schoolchildren will be snoozing late, savoring their last day of winter break.

On Monday morning, a few students are headed to class.

Schools opened their doors Jan. 2 in Alexandria and Howard, St. Mary’s and Charles counties, while elsewhere in the region — and in eight of the nation’s 10 largest school systems — students are free to enjoy the nation’s official celebration of New Year’s Day.

Some parents in Alexandria, home to thousands of federal workers and countless others who follow the federal calendar, assumed their kids would have the day off. As 2012 approached, they were not pleased to discover otherwise.

Matt Petersen said he would keep his two children home despite initial objections from his fifth-grade daughter, who fretted about ruining her perfect attendance record.

“We won’t literally be out of town,” he said, “but it’s one of the main holidays on the calendar, and it’s just inappropriate for them to have class.”

Others see an unequivocal upside.

“I was very surprised that the kids were going to be in school Monday, but once I thought about it — it’s great!” said Scott Boggess, also of Alexandria. “My wife and I are going to go out to eat a nice lunch and to see a movie that’s not animated.”

School boards discuss and approve academic calendars the way they do most of their business: in public but without much of an audience. Alexandrians did not object to schools being in session Jan. 2 before the Alexandria School Board voted on the matter in May, said chairwoman Sheryl Gorsuch.

She said those who are peeved might blame Virginia’s so-called “Kings Dominion law.” It prohibits schools from opening before Labor Day and makes it difficult, Gorsuch said, to shoehorn enough instructional days into the calendar before standardized tests are administered in the spring.

Moreover, not every parent has a paid holiday Monday.

“There’s a big voice out there that’s just as happy to have their kids go back to school on January 2nd, because they’re going back to work,” Gorsuch said.

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Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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