The Whiteboard Jungle: The balancing act of choosing days off

For the first time in Glendale Unified School District’s history, April 24 is no longer a school day.

Previously, school remained open on the day that commemorates the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians who were killed by the Ottoman Empire in Turkey.

Finally, Glendale Unified has acknowledged the obvious that with such a large Armenian population in the city, educators teaching to half-empty classrooms no longer made sense.

Berdj Karapetian, chairman of the Glendale chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America, said he is “pleased” that Glendale schools will be closed, considering a third of its students are of Armenian descent.

I must admit that many of my colleagues enjoyed working that day in the past if for no other reason than to have class sizes between 15 and 20 instead of the typical 35 to 40. However, little education occurred for those who showed up, including a handful of dedicated Armenian students.

It makes sense for a school district to take into consideration its student population when determining non-instructional days.

The tricky part for districts, however, is ensuring that the closing of schools is more culturally based rather than religiously oriented.

Members of the Muslim community in New York City have been asking the school district for years to close on two days important to them: one for the end of Ramadan and the other for the Festival of Sacrifice.

While a few cities in the United States, such as Dearborn, Mich., have honored such a request, schools need to be mindful of the separation of church and state. Still, school districts with significant Jewish populations have for years shut down campuses on High Holy Days, which are religious in nature.

While I don’t necessarily oppose such action, it does make one wonder how a system reconciles scheduling religious holidays on a public school calendar with downplaying the use of Christmas music and decorations in December, going so far as rebranding Christmas vacation as winter break.

Students should be encouraged by their parents to celebrate and commemorate important dates in their respective religion and culture. But that doesn’t mean schools have a legal duty to have non-instructional days that will accommodate every possible ethnic or religious group.

The argument that students are penalized if they don’t attend school on meaningful days in their community is specious. Section 48205 of the California Educational Code clearly states that if a student misses school “due to observance of a holiday or ceremony of his or her religion” he shall be “allowed to complete all assignments and tests missed during the absence . . .[and] be given full credit.”

Having no school in Glendale on April 24 makes sense. If the city’s demographics change in the future, other non-instructional days may have to be considered. However, at some point, there won’t be any days left to consider.

At a time when every minute counts in teaching kids, and the United States has fewer school days compared to other like countries, school districts have to be careful when determining when to close school.

Think about this for a moment: How can a country that banned school prayer over half a century ago be the same land that allows religious holidays on a public school calendar? Only in America.


BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools and The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at

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