The Unfortunate Scheduling of Spring Break Over Holy Week

Spring Break in the Arlington Public Schools, and in many school districts around the country, coincides with Holy Week, the week stretching from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday which includes the observances of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter.  Though Holy Week moves from year to year depending on the dating of Easter, and thus is rarely a true mid-term break between January and June, the schools continue to peg their Spring Break to Holy Week, for what I assume originated out of an institutional respect for the religious observances of many of their families.

But really … does the scheduling of Spring Break during Holy Week encourage religious observance?  No, it doesn't.  In fact, I would contend that it actually does harm to Holy Week observances.

Most churches that observe Holy Week do so with services on Palm Sunday, an evening service on Holy Thursday, an evening service on Good Friday (with, perhaps, a prayer vigil or some other solemn liturgy on Friday mid-day), perhaps an Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, and Sunday morning services.  With the possible exception of the mid-day liturgies on Good Friday, there is no Holy Week observance that is better facilitated by the cancellation of schools or that would be harmed if schools were in session.  Just as with Ash Wednesday services, kids can go to school in the morning and go to church in the evening (or attend morning services before school, as is the practice in some churches).

The truth is that many families use Spring Break, the only week-long stretch when schools are closed from January through June, for travel – ski trips, college visitations, or a trek to Grandma's house.  And who can blame them?  For nearly six months children and families have little opportunity for extended travel, and it is more than understandable that they would make use of that week to get away and do things they otherwise cannot do.

However, because Spring Break is scheduled over Holy Week, churches see diminished attendance at Palm Sunday services and Sunday School programs, and at Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies.  This scheduling mechanism, which I'm assuming originated out of a sense of respect for the Christian observance of Holy Week, has had the (unintended) consequence of harming that observance.  Because public schools schedule Spring Break during Holy Week, fewer people participate in Holy Week liturgies and activities.

I would like to see Spring Break scheduled as a true mid-point in the winter/spring calendar, giving teachers and students alike a week off halfway through the term.  I understand that schools need to recognize certain religious observances in their scheduling – Christmas, for example – for if a significant number of students are missing school due to a religious observance, the school's educational mission is harmed.  Perhaps schools could close for Good Friday in recognition of the religious observance, as some school districts with significant Jewish populations close for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  But I'd be glad if schools remained open on Good Friday, too (truly, how many families would keep their kids home from school for a religious observance on Good Friday?  Very few, it seems to me.). 

Christians don't need the schools to insulate and protect their religious practice.  Members of minority religious groups don't have the luxury of scheduled days off for their holidays, and I don't think that we Christians need that "luxury" either.  For as I noted above, the state's insulation of religious observances with scheduled days off from school actually does harm to those observances.