LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County students and employees will get a full week off for Thanksgiving in November.
There's a caveat to that decision, though.
In adopting its 2012-13 calendar with those days off, the Pasco School Board also set the Monday and Tuesday of that week as hurricane makeup days, just in case.
"I hope they get the entire week," board member Allen Altman said during Tuesday's meeting. "But we know from 2004-05 that those are very real possibilities."
Board members made clear that they overrode the superintendent's recommendation for the usual three-day Thanksgiving break as a one-time gesture to improve morale, knowing they can't afford to give raises. When Veterans Day falls on a weekday rather than a Sunday, they said, a full week off for Thanksgiving won't get the same consideration.
"We don't want this to become a bargaining tool," vice chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said. "We really want them (employees) to know we understand the situation that they have been under."
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino and her staff advised the board to keep the shorter holiday break, saying they wanted to keep the first semester — already shorter by 10 school days — from becoming too imbalanced with the second. All involved wanted to end the first semester, including exams, before winter break.
That did not change with the new calendar, which simply moved hurricane makeup days from February to November.
In Hillsborough schools, which have given students a week Thanksgiving break for the past few years, first semester exams have come after winter vacation. State law bars districts from beginning classes earlier than two weeks before Labor Day, without a special waiver that Pasco is ineligible to receive.
United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb, a member of the district calendar committee, said the committee reviewed such issues and still recommended the full week. Attendance lags during the first two days of the Thanksgiving week, anyway, she said, and students who do attend often are not focused.
"For the last couple of years — it's really been more like five or six — the committee has been talking about moving Thanksgiving to a week off," Webb said.
She told the board that reserving Nov. 19-20 for days lost to hurricanes, and making no promise for future years, was acceptable.
"I will gladly send out any warning, any disclaimers: one year only. I will wear it tattooed on my forehead. Not really," she said, urging rejection of the superintendent's recommended calendar.
Board member Alison Crumbley said she did not believe education would be compromised with the two extra days off, noting the absenteeism that had been mentioned during Thanksgiving week. She also stressed that the calendar committee, made up of 30 members including parents and day care owners, was clear in its support.
"I take their recommendation highly," Crumbley said.
The board unanimously adopted the 2012-13 calendar with a week for Thanksgiving, which had been the only sticking point when it tabled the vote two weeks earlier.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.
Pasco school calendar key dates, 2012-13
Aug. 20 — First day of classes
Sept. 3 — No classes for Labor Day
Oct. 22 — No classes for teacher planning
Nov. 19-23 — Thanksgiving break
Dec. 24-Jan. 7 — Winter break
Jan. 21 — No classes for MLK Day
Feb. 18 — No classes for Washington's Birthday
Feb. 26-28 — FCAT writing
March 25-April 1 — Spring break
April 15-26 — FCAT 2.0
May 27 — No classes for Memorial Day
June 4 - Last day of classes