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School calendars are released; pre-Labor Day start again in 2020

Teachers are scheduled to be in school for professional development on Election Day 2020, but not Election Day 2019.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia School District has posted its school calendars for 2019-20 and 2020-21. Two aspects of the schedule to note: The school year in 2020 will start on Aug. 31, before Labor Day, which that year falls on Sept. 7. This year, the holiday is on Sept. 2, and the school year will begin Sept. 3.

Last year’s pre-Labor Day start didn’t turn out as planned, as schools closed for several days or half-days in the first two weeks due to extreme heat.

But more eye-catching are the District’s decisions regarding Election Day in those two years.

This year’s Election Day, when there is no national race and most city races have effectively been decided in the primary, schools are closed and teachers have the day off.

But on Election Day 2020, when the presidency and U.S. Senate and House are at stake and Pennsylvania is a crucial battleground state – and the teachers’ union makes up the largest single army of get-out-the-vote foot soldiers in the city – students are off, but teachers are expected in school for a professional development day.

What gives?

The School District, in a statement, said that Election Day in November is always used as a professional development day, while on primary election day in the spring – the high-stakes day in most local elections – teachers traditionally have off.

This year, an exception was made, the statement said, to keep the teacher work year between Aug. 15 and June 15, as per its agreement with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Instead of Election Day, the teachers’ professional development day was moved to Dec. 23, the Monday of Christmas week.

“We are contractually required to provide seven professional development days,” the District statement said. “In the past, Election Day in November has coincided with a professional development day. However, in the ’19-’20 year, we had to make an adjustment to the calendar to ensure that the last work day was not later than June 15. We moved the professional development day from the election day in November to December 23.”

How this switch helps with meeting the Aug. 15 to June 15 requirement was not immediately clear. (June 15 next year is a Monday.) But these exceptions occasionally happen to meet internal scheduling needs; the last time was 2017.

Asked for a statement, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan said this:

“Having schools closed on Election Day is preferable to PFT, as a lot of our members use the day to volunteer at the polls and knock on doors to get out the vote.” A union official noted that whether or not teachers must report to school that day, members are active. Retirees, especially, run phone banks and the like.

Jessica Way, a member of the steering committee of the Caucus of Working Educators, an activist group within the PFT, said in her experience, whether teachers are asked to work or not on Election Day in November “has gone back and forth.”

WE caucus “has worked hard to get a bunch of teachers to run for city committee, and it’s exciting when elections are days off so they are allowed to perform their duties,” said Way, who teaches at the Franklin Learning Center. Otherwise, these teachers must use one of their three personal days “to perform their duties.”

“We realize it’s a privilege to have those [election] days off,” Way said. “It’s a great gift for us.”

To have the day off in the 2020 election, she added, “would help us fight for stronger schools.”

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