INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Schools will be open and classes in session on both Good Friday and Veterans Day this next school year. The decision came down to a 3-2 vote by the School Board Tuesday night.
The issue of school being in session on Good Friday was not up to the school district’s calendar committee. Instead, it was decided by the Florida Department of Education, which scheduled the two-week FCAT testing period to end on Good Friday.
Cynthia Rountree, the district’s director of assessment, told the School Board and the audience that they had no choice but to schedule school on Good Friday because of the FCAT.
She said that the last day is typically a “pack up” and “make up” day for testing.
Parents and other members of the public spoke out against having school on the Christian holiday, calling it the “most sacred” of days.
Board member Matt McCain said that scheduling school on Good Friday is “hard to swallow” and, as a Christian could not support it.
Caroline Ginn told the School Board that they need to recognize Good Friday – that there are more than 100 Christian churches in the county.
Good Friday, she said, should not be business as usual.
“Please, kindly choose another day,” Ginn said. “Keep Good Friday sacred.”
School Board Chair Karen Disney-Brombach tried to amend the calendar, calling for Good Friday to be observed and the day made up using an emergency make up day set for April 25. She also asked the board to make an exception for Veterans Day, having that Thursday off instead of the Friday.
Her motion died 2-3, with only herself and McCain voting for it.
The board had directed the calendar committee to not schedule any “orphan” days during the school week – by having one day off (in this case Thursday) mid-week and being back in school for a single day before the weekend (like Friday).
Board member Claudia Jimenez voiced support for having school in session on Veterans Day, noting that too often parents use the day off as a 3-day weekend that doesn’t honor the sacrifice the veterans had made.
She said that the schools could use Veterans Day as a day to teach the students about the importance and significance of the holiday.
Members of the public disagreed.
“They should be respected and we should honor them,” Dianna Sutton said of the veterans. “Somewhere, we got lost.”
Sutton explained that at one point, the country recognized both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln with individual holidays – they have since been condensed into one day.
“If we can have MLK Day, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln should have their days, too,” she said.
None of the School Board members expressed support for the calendar, each noting that they did not like it. However, the district is in need of having a calendar finalized so parents and schools alike can begin planning for the summer and upcoming school year.
“We are so late in the game right now,” Schools Superintendent Harry La Cava said, explaining the need to approve the calendar.
This calendar creation cycle has been especially challenging for the district due to changes in the district’s status. The district had been designated an “academically high performing” district, which allowed it to start school a few days early.
The committee proposed just such a calendar, only to learn that the district lost that status due to one school not meeting its class size reduction goal.
It then had to go back and rework the calendar, and had to take into account the FCAT schedule, which pushed Spring Break into March.
Spring Break typically falls during Passover and Easter, allowing for Jewish and Christian families to observe the holidays without taking their students out of school.
La Cava told the audience and School Board that parents may still take their children out of school on those holidays without penalizing the students. Their absences will be excused and their work will be allowed to be made up.
He said the same is true for all recognized religious holidays.