Public school students in not only Wesley Chapel but all of Pasco County will now get a full week off from school to help clear out the fridge to make room for those 2012 Thanksgiving leftovers. The Pasco County School Board on February 21 finalized and approved the 2012-13 academic calendar, including the county’s week-long (November 19-23) Thanksgiving holiday.

The new academic calendar gives students and Pasco School employees off the Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 19-20) before Thanksgiving, days that are usually spent in the classroom. However, Pasco County School Board chair Joanne Hurley says that students shouldn’t get used to the idea.

“It’s a one-time-only deal,” says Hurley. “The week off is only possible due to the way Veteran’s Day falls.”

Hurley says that there are actually two “caveats” that allowed the week-long holiday, the first being that Veteran’s Day (November 11) usually falls on a weekday, but since it falls on a Sunday this year, a week off for Thanksgiving break is acceptable.

“This year provided a unique opportunity,” says School Board vice chair Cynthia Armstrong. “Since there was no need to have a day off on Veteran’s Day, we thought it would be acceptable to instead have two extra days off for Thanksgiving.”

The second caveat, Hurley says, was the subject of the possibility of hurricane make-up days. The Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving will be treated as hurricane make-up days, meaning that if no hurricanes prevent students from attending school, they have those days off. These hurricane make-up days usually appear on the calendar in the spring semester.

Students will still have first semester exams before Christmas break, Hurley says, and that the approved calendar still complies with the Florida Department of Education (FDoE)’s requirements for days and hours of instruction.

According to FDoE, under the normal academic calendar, students in kindergarten through 12th grade are scheduled for 180 days of school. The hours of instruction for each grade level, however, have different requirements. Students in grades K-3 are required to attend not less than 720 instructional hours and students in grades 4-12 are required to attend no less than 900 hours.

Pasco County’s superintendent of Schools Heather Fiorentino had proposed a different calendar, but the School Board overruled it unanimously. Hurley says that Fiorentino’s calendar proposal required students to attend class on the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week because she thought that it would be “better instructionally.”

Armstrong says, however, that the week off will benefit not only the students, but also will help support and reward Pasco teachers who have been asked to take on extra duties in recent years but, due to budget cuts, haven’t been given pay raises.

“They’ve been asked to do more with less,” Armstrong says. “This was something we could give them that wouldn’t impact student instruction or fiscal responsibilities.”

“We wanted to do something to improve staff morale and give them something that we thought they would want,” says Hurley. “We wanted to let them know that we (understand) that it has been hard lately.”

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