By: Brittany Flaherty Theis

As we enter the summer, many school boards face the task of approving a school calendar. For a variety of reasons, some school districts choose to require attendance on certain legal school holidays. To do so, districts were previously required to obtain a waiver from the mandate within the School Code that teachers not be required to teach on legal school holidays. Pursuant to Section 2-3.25g of the School Code, school boards must provide notice and a hearing before petitioning the State Board of Education for such a waiver, which, if granted, is effective for up to five years. The State Board of Education files reports outlining all requested waivers with the General Assembly and the General Assembly could approve or disapprove the report in whole or in part. Upon application, waivers can be modified during their effective period and renewed following expiration.

In 2009, the General Assembly chose to modify the procedure for holding class on certain legal school holidays. Although Section 2-3.25g continues to apply to waivers from other mandates within the School Code, compliance with that section is no longer required to hold class or staff attendance days on certain legal school holidays. Public Act 96-640 provides that school boards that are eligible to apply for waivers under Section 2-3.25g of the School Code are authorized to hold school, institute days, conferences, or staff development on certain legal school holidays without obtaining a waiver. Those holidays include the third Monday in January (the Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.); February 12 (the Birthday of President Abraham Lincoln); the first Monday in March (known as Casimir Pulaski’s birthday); the Second Monday in October (Columbus Day); and November 11 (Veterans’ Day).

In place of the legal school holiday, the district must recognize the person(s) honored by the holiday through instructional activities on that day, or if the day is not used for student attendance, on the first school day before or after that day. For example, some schools host events every year around Veterans’ Day. Many schools invite local veterans, particularly family members of students at the school, to attend the event. The Veterans’ Day events often include speeches from veterans and tributes to the veterans in the form of performances or visual displays.

School boards exercising this authority must first provide notice and hold a public hearing about the proposed resolution. The notification requirements under the new procedure are not as strict as those for a waiver under Section 2-3.25g of the School Code. For example, the stricter requirements found in Section 2-3.25g require the school board to publish notice in the newspaper and notify the exclusive collective bargaining agent and the state legislators representing that school board’s territory of its intent to apply for waiver and of the hearing. Under Public Act 96-640, however, school boards that have the hearing as part of a regular board meeting can provide the requisite notice by posting it with the physical agenda and on their website. The school board should also take steps to get the notice to its educators and parents. The notice must include the time, date, and place of the hearing, describe the proposal, and indicate that the school board will take testimony about the proposal from educators and parents.

The public hearing and comment can be listed as a line item on the agenda for a regular board meeting. When the school board reaches that line item in the meeting, the president should note that he or she is opening the public hearing, describe the proposal, and ask if there is anyone who wishes to address the board. The public hearing is separate from the public comment period in the agenda, but is treated much like public comment. Following any testimony, the school board can move to close the hearing.

Although Public Act 96-640 became effective in 2009, many districts had waivers in effect that are only now expiring. If your district has a waiver expiring and would like assistance complying with the new procedure for requiring attendance on legal holidays, contact Whitt Law Attorney Brittany Flaherty Theis. Additionally, our attorneys can help determine whether your collective bargaining agreement will impact this process.

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