Florida’s Pasco County School board is attempting to combat absenteeism by adding four-day weekends to the school calendar.
The board members voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve three of these “mini-breaks” in October, February, and April for the 2024-2025 school year. They hope students will take time off during scheduled breaks rather than on school days.
Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley explained, “We are hoping that by placing those four-day weekends strategically, we can encourage our students and families to take their trips or vacations on those long weekends instead of taking off instructional days.”
The board aims to market these mini-breaks to families as an alternative to missing school during scheduled sessions.
Currently, absence rates in the district average at 5%, with some students missing at least 10% of school days.
In September, Pasco County introduced an Absentee Awareness Month to encourage parents to prioritize attendance, noting that “a 10% or higher absentee rate can steer a child towards future crime and unemployment.”
The district will also eliminate four half-days and replace them with a training day for teachers, while leaving the schedule open for potential hurricane makeup days.
Board members suggested that the primary reason for student absenteeism is parents pulling their kids out for family vacations. The months with “mini-breaks” were chosen to coincide with times when many families tend to take their children out of school.
Board chairman Megan Harding said, “It is different, but we’re going to try something new, right?” Despite adding four-day weekends, the school board insisted that the calendar actually provides more instructional minutes than the current year.
A report from Attendance Works, a non-profit addressing attendance decline in the U.S., found that 66% of enrolled students attended a school with high or extreme levels of chronic absence in 2021-2022. This means “at least one of five students in their school was missing almost four weeks throughout the school year.”
The data also showed that nearly 14.7 million students were chronically absent in the 2021-22 school year, an increase of 6.5 million more students missing 10% or more of regular school sessions than the year prior to the pandemic.
Why It Matters (op-ed)
Florida’s Pasco County School Board’s decision to implement four-day weekends as a means to combat absenteeism is a misguided attempt at solving a serious problem. By enabling students to take more time off, we risk further diminishing the value of education.
Instead, we should focus on addressing the root causes of absenteeism, such as poor school conditions and lack of parental involvement. Adding “mini-breaks” may inadvertently send the message that education is not a priority.
Moreover, the board’s assumption that vacations are the primary reason for student absences is an oversimplification. We must examine the broader sociopolitical factors contributing to attendance decline and work towards comprehensive solutions.
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