‘Something new’: Florida school district adds 4-day mini-breaks to curb absenteeism

LAND O' LAKES, Fla. — A school district in west-central Florida is hoping that its plan to offer three four-day weekends during the 2024-25 school year will help curb absentee rates.

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In a news release on Thursday, Pasco County Schools called the mini-breaks “a groundbreaking move” that aims “to revolutionize student engagement and combat chronic absenteeism.”

The extended weekends -- Oct. 12-15, 2024, Feb. 14-17, 2025, and April 18-21, 2005 -- will be added to the school calendar in addition to the weeklong Thanksgiving holiday, the two week Christmas break in December and a one-week pause in March for spring break.

“It is different,” board chair Megan Harding told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we’re going to try something new.”

District officials said the new schedule will also improve student engagement, empower parents and guardians, strengthen family bonds and increase classroom instructional hours, WFLA-TV reported.

“We are hoping that by placing those four-day weekends strategically, we can encourage our students and families to take their trips or vacations on those long weekends instead of taking off instructional days,” Assistant Superintendent Kevin Shibley, who oversees the calendar, told WTVT . “And so, we’re going to try and market that to our families this year. And here are some mini-breaks throughout the year, so that if you want to take some time off, let’s do it then and not miss school during scheduled school.”

Harding, a former elementary school teacher, told the Times that she frequently had children miss class time because their families took trips.

The Pasco School District has an average daily absence rate of about 5%, according to the newspaper. It also has seen a rise in students missing 10% of school days.

“The primary objective of this revamped schedule is to encourage families to take advantage of these planned breaks for family trips, vacations, and appointments, while ensuring that students attend school consistently during scheduled contact days,” Pasco Schools said in a statement. “This forward-thinking initiative not only benefits students but also accommodates the needs of parents and guardians who often struggle to coordinate family vacations with the academic calendar.”

Board member Colleen Beaudoin said that even with the four-day weekends, the new schedule will allow more minutes for lessons than it did during the 2023-24 school year, the Times reported.

The schedule did not specify hurricane makeup days, leaving the option for school officials to adjust accordingly during the school year.

“I want to make sure we do what is best for students making up instructional time,” Beaudoin told the newspaper.

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