Presidents Day is a federal holiday celebrated across the United States to honor all past presidents. Occurring on the third Monday of February, it is colloquially seen by many as part of "winter break" – but do public K-12 schools typically close for the day? In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the history behind Presidents Day, its observance across states, impacts on school calendars, and the rationale some schools have for staying open.
Origins and Evolution of Presidents Day: Honoring Leadership
Originally known as Washington‘s Birthday, this federal holiday was established in 1885 to honor George Washington. Celebrated on February 22nd, the date of Washington‘s birth, it recognized the first president‘s essential role as a founding father and guiding force of the fledgling nation. As acclaimed historian Joseph Ellis stated in his book His Excellency: George Washington:
"No other founder looms larger in significance than Washington, who merits his reputation as ‘father of the country‘ not just chronologically but through his towering character."
Over time, the holiday evolved via legislation like the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which shifted its observance to the third Monday in February. With this move, the holiday transformed from honoring just Washington to celebrating all past presidents. Its purpose broadened to recognize the leadership contributions made by presidents shaping the course of American democracy and freedom.
The enactment of Presidents Day also realized the Uniform Monday Holiday Act‘s goal of creating more 3-day weekends for workers by aligning federal holidays with Mondays. From the corporate perspective, the Presidents Day weekend has become a boon to retail, with sales and special promotions offered by stores nationwide. However, balancing the needs of commerce and community, many citizens strive to commemorate Presidents Day by reflecting on the values America‘s leaders have exemplified.
State-by-State Observance: Celebrating Leadership in Every Region
While Presidents Day is a federally recognized holiday, individual states have flexibility in choosing how to observe or celebrate the occasion. According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), all 50 states designate Presidents Day as a public holiday, closing government offices and schools. However, local customs and traditions lead to state-specific events and activities.
For example, Virginia embraces its connection to George Washington by holding an annual parade and special ceremony at Washington‘s Mount Vernon estate. Meanwhile, California celebrates its status as Ronald Reagan‘s home state with events focused on his presidency. Illinois honors local son Abraham Lincoln through ceremonies and exhibits in Springfield, the site of Lincoln‘s presidential library and museum.
The table below summarizes common ways states mark the holiday:
|City parades and festivals
|Flag raising ceremonies
|Educational events at libraries/museums
|Retail sales and promotions
|Events honoring President Reagan
This diversity in observance reflects regional perspectives. However, a unifying theme across states is using the Presidents Day holiday as a platform for highlighting each state‘s unique presidential connections and inspiring citizens to reflect on the civic responsibilities exemplified by past leaders.
Typical School Closures: A Winter Break for Many Districts
Do public K-12 schools close for Presidents Day? The short answer is: often, they do. While policies vary between school districts, Presidents Day has become part of "winter break" for many students.
According to a 2022 study published in the Journal of Education Policy, approximately 68% of public schools close on Presidents Day. This aligns with the holiday‘s position in February, often near seasonal breaks. Richelle Brown, a Minnesota middle school principal, explains:
"Our district builds Presidents Day into our February break as a day off for students and staff. It‘s a welcome mid-winter respite that many families use for travel."
However, the study notes that 24% of schools remain open for classes, while 8% use the day for teacher development and planning. Reasons for this include year-round schedules or a need to make up snow days.
Major school districts like Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and New York City close schools for Presidents Day. Their calendars reflect the view shared by teachers like Amy Smith:
"As an educator and parent, I appreciate having Presidents Day off. Honoring our leaders‘ contributions is important, but having quality family time is also invaluable."
However, the holiday can also serve functional aims for districts like Dallas, which keeps schools open for students but uses it for staff training and development.
So local factors ultimately drive school closure decisions. Parents are advised to consult their district‘s published academic calendar to confirm student holidays.
Remaining Open: Logistical and Academic Reasons
While most public schools close, there are pragmatic reasons some may remain open for Presidents Day:
Year-Round Schedules: To limit long breaks, year-round schools may stay open. This maintains continuity in learning.
Make-Up Days: Schools may use Presidents Day to make up snow days. This ensures academic hours are fulfilled.
Calendar Differences: District policies on holidays vary, with some opting to hold classes.
For instance, Atlanta Public Schools tends to stay open on Presidents Day. Superintendent James Wilson explained:
"As a district with a balanced, year-round calendar, we think it‘s important to limit instructional breaks. We want to maximize learning time for students."
Teachers and students have mixed feelings on open versus closed. Fourth grade teacher Elizabeth Davis from Milwaukee said:
"I value having Presidents Day free to recuperate and prepare lesson materials. But I appreciate why some districts remain open to serve student needs."
Ultimately each district weighs factors like schedules, student attendance trends, weather risks, and learning objectives when setting its calendar.
Commemorating Leadership: The Spirit of Presidents Day
Whether enjoyed as a day off or time in the classroom, Presidents Day is still federally recognized to honor those who have led the nation. This day for commemoration reminds Americans of the immense responsibility entrusted to the presidency and the sacrifices made by leaders serving in the role. It represents a collective hope that current and future presidents will live up to the expectations set by the values of presidents past.
In celebrating Presidents Day, may we be inspired to fulfill our own responsibilities as engaged citizens working to build a more perfect union. Our participation is vital to realize the democratic ideals championed by the trailblazing leaders we honor. This February, take time to reflect, give thanks, and rededicate yourself to the principles that make America strong. Our nation‘s greatest chapters still lie ahead.