New York City Public Schools finally released the calendar for 2023-2024, sending teachers, principals, administrators and families into an uproar. We asked the questions on parents’ minds.
But first, some context: I’m the author of “Getting Into NYC Kindergarten” and “Getting Into NYC High School.” I’ve helped families navigate this system for 18 years and know a bit about how we end up here — year after year.
For more than 100 years, American schools have started in September — after students were done with their summer farming chores — and ended in June, when it became too hot to study in classrooms devoid of air conditioning. (With global climate change, it’s getting hotter earlier and earlier in the academic year. Despite former mayor Bill De Blasio’s promise that all public schools would have air conditioning by 2022, in 2023 that is still not the case.)
Over the past few years, schools in other states have shifted to an August or even a July start date, pointing to research which demonstrates that students and teachers benefit from more instructional days prior to the administration of state tests, completing the first semester before winter recess, and the flexibility of more and longer breaks during the academic year.
However, in New York City, the school year cannot begin before September or end after late June, and must include from 180 to 191 instructional days, depending on when the holidays fall, with none of those instructional days happening in July or August, as per the contract with the teacher’s union.
For the 2022-2023 school year, 181 days were planned, including four staff development days without students present. For 2023-2024, that number will go up to 182 instructional days. Days that students no longer have off include Rosh Hashanah, Diwali (which was announced with much fanfare as a school holiday last year), Veteran’s Day, and Eid al-Adha, as well as a spring break no longer aligned with the last two days of Passover.
We asked other experts to help us navigate the calendar. Edited excerpts:
Why was the 2023-2024 calendar released so late this year? This makes it difficult for families to make travel and vacation plans.
Nathaniel Styer, New York City Department of Education press secretary: The calendar was still being negotiated with the UFT until recently. Calendars are developed in combination with our labor partners. The calendar was released after an agreement was reached on many points.
Why are New York City students in school until nearly the end of June? Some summer camps have already started by then!
Styer: NYC Schools always go late into June. I think this is fairly standard across the board in NY. The start and end dates are in the labor contracts and state law.
Why are there more instructional days this year than last year?
Styer: Spring Recess is usually five to seven days long. This calendar is unusual because of a wide split between Easter and Passover. There is no precedent for giving all days of Passover off with a split. There has been a split three times in recent memory, with the last night falling on the weekend.
It is in our labor agreements that only the first two days of Passover and Good Friday are covered. Spring Recess is not in our labor contracts, but we generally attempt to cover most of Passover and Easter when they are aligned on the calendar.
Eid al-Adha is observed in accordance with internationally recognized calendars that cite Eid al-Adha as starting on June 16.
The addition of Diwali is contingent on the State Legislature, which has not passed the necessary law.
Per New York State law, federal holidays that fall on a Saturday are not observed on a weekday; where such holidays fall on a Sunday, they will be observed on the following Monday.
Per Department of Education policy, when non-federal holidays fall on a weekend, schools will remain open on the weekdays immediately preceding or following that holiday.
The following are non-federal holidays observed by NYC: Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, and Lunar New Year. Other holidays which appear on the calendar include: Good Friday, Passover (first two days), Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Election Day, the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
The following holidays fall on weekends next year: Rosh Hashanah (sundown Friday–Sunday, Sept. 15–17); Veterans Day (Nov. 11); Diwali (Sunday, Nov. 12); Christmas Eve (Dec. 24); New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31); Lunar New Year (Feb. 10); and Eid al-Adha (June 16).
Why are teachers upset about the altered schedule?
Chloe Pashman, education director of a CBO preschool in the Bronx: A major federal holiday, Veterans’ Day, appears to be “missing” from the DOE calendar. Veterans’ Day falls on a Saturday, so it should be observed on the Friday before that day. CSA, the union that represents me as a DOE contracted CBO preschool director, as well as all of the principals and assistant principals in “big” DOE, is advocating for this to be changed. I believe strongly that it should be, and it seems as though there may be a legal issue with this as well. From what I hear, federal holidays that fall on a weekend must be observed on the Friday or Monday adjacent to them on the calendar. How can the “leaders” of New York City not feel that the brave men and women who fight and have fought to defend our country are not worthy of an observed day off? What example is that setting for our children? If it were other holidays, I am certain they would insist that there be an additional day. The “inclusive” folks who run the DOE and the city should reevaluate their priorities!”
Jordana Kagan, teacher, Clara Barton High School, grades 9-12, Brooklyn: Teachers in my school were ruffled. Their stance about the 2023-2024 calendar is that it was created without input from the teacher’s union. It’s the principle of good will and transparency. It does not coincide with Passover holidays or the Long Island calendar so teachers will be forced to take off for religious observance or to tend to their own children.
Styer: As always, staff can request time off for religious observations.
Is there more to teachers’ unhappiness than just missed holidays?
NYC veteran teacher and parent who asked to remain anonymous: When the calendar came out, we were also informed that they are taking away the time in our contract allocated for parent communication, and professional development, and replacing it with small group instruction every day after school, but only for students who are behind. So the little time we have to plan any meaningful and enriching curriculum to address the increasingly diverse set of needs in our classroom is now gone, or the administration will have to use substitutes to make time for teachers to meet and plan.
I think that we need parents and community members to advocate for the future of public education in our city, but both the union and the DOE are trying to point fingers at each other, meanwhile we all know they are actually collaborating. The union has kept all of this out of the media on purpose, and it is time for families to become informed about what all the proposed changes mean for them.
This is the official position from the DOE, teachers and administrators. What do families think? Make sure to let us know in the Comments!