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Glendale Unified May Add Armenian Holiday

February 08, 2004|Kevin Pang | Times Staff Writer

Glendale Unified is the latest California school district to consider setting its academic calendar around ethnic and religious holidays.

Because of heavy absenteeism in recent years on the day of the Armenian Christmas, officials at Glendale Unified say they are looking into extending the district's winter break to include Jan. 6.

One-third of the district's 29,200 students are of Armenian descent, and about 8,000 students took Jan. 6 off this year to observe the holiday, costing the district nearly $250,000 in state funding, said Stephen Hodgson, Glendale Unified's chief business and financial officer. The state pays schools about $26 per student per day, based on a district's average daily attendance.

To observe Armenian Christmas as a day off and maintain the required number of annual instructional days, Glendale Unified hopes to start the school year a week earlier in August and extend winter break.

"Obviously, the school district needs to be in sync with the community that it serves," said Michael Escalante, who recently became superintendent of Glendale Unified.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, so-called professional development days -- when student attendance is not required -- are scheduled around days of high absenteeism, such as Rosh Hashana and Good Friday, spokesman Larry Carletta said.

L.A. Unified schools that operate on a traditional September to June calendar adopted a three-week winter break in 1998, district officials said. Among the reasons: Many immigrant families travel outside the country during the vacation.

The Las Virgenes Unified School District, which covers the West San Fernando Valley and east Conejo Valley and has a large number of Jewish students, scheduled its fall recess on Oct. 6, the day of Yom Kippur.

In San Francisco, where 31.3% of students are Chinese, the school district and teachers union observe Lunar New Year as a holiday.

If the proposed Glendale Unified calendar wins the approval of the district's teachers association this month, the school board is expected to pass it in March.

Sandra Belderian, a junior at Clark Magnet High School in La Crescenta, attended school Jan. 6 and went to church services that night. She said most of her classes had fewer than 10 people that day.

Armenians make up 30% of Glendale's population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The California State Board of Education does not dictate how school districts set their calendars. "They only have to provide 180 school days," said Kim Clement, an attendance accounting consultant for the state board.

"They do it however they meet their local needs."

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