Should entire Thanksgiving week be a school holiday? Some schools find it's a cost-saving move

Kindergarten student colors a picture for her Thanks Giving book cover at Weemes Elementary school in Exposition Park.
Kindergarten student colors a picture for her Thanks Giving book cover at Weemes Elementary school in Exposition Park.
Deepa Fernandes/KPCC

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When student absences shoot up in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, is it worth it for school districts to hold class at all?

That's the question some school officials are asking themselves after a week where some schools saw absence rates in the double digits. 

In Los Angeles County, some districts – Los Angeles Unified among them – give the entire week of Thanksgiving as a holiday. Others, like Santa Monica-Malibu, are in session on the three days before the Thursday holiday.

“The pros of having schools open is that students are in class learning and growing and that’s always a great thing,” said school district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker.

The downside, she said, is that some parents pull their kids for family commitments.

Many of her schools kept absence rates in the single digits but one of the district’s schools, Franklin Elementary School, reported 15 percent of its students with unexcused absences on the day before Thanksgiving. Thursday and Friday were holidays for all public school students.

Pinsker said the school district decided to stay in session years ago because of contractual obligations with its classified employees.

Nearly a decade ago, LAUSD made the entire Thanksgiving week a vacation week to address a large budget deficit. Officials kept the arrangement after funds were restored and added the three extra days elsewhere in the school calendar.

Students in the Rowland Unified School District were in class on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving. As the district begins its periodic evaluation of the school calendar, there is discussion of cutting down on absences by taking the whole Thanksgiving week off and adding those days to another part of the school year, officials said. 

Students who are in school in the days before Thanksgiving, “are a little more distracted as they’re getting ready for the holiday,” said San Gabriel Unified Superintendent John Pappalardo. 

So about a decade ago his school district gave students and teachers the week off.

School districts typically have a committee that makes recommended changes to the school calendar every few years. A district’s labor unions and administrators are consulted on the changes before a school board signs off.

Money is a factor because schools receive the bulk of their funding through a calculation of Average Daily Attendance (ADA).

“If you’re losing a lot of ADA in the school district this week, it would pay to reassess how you slice those days up over Thanksgiving break,” said Redondo Beach Unified Superintendent Steven Keller.

His school district keeps attendance at about 98 percent. Dipping below 95 percent attendance, he said, is worrisome because his 9,500-student school district would lose about $50 per day for every student who’s absent.

Students aren’t the only ones who lose focus and motivation if they’re in class the week before Thanksgiving.

“In the past I’ve certainly felt a little feverish on a Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” a long time ago and in another school district, he said.