Do California Schools Get Juneteenth Off This Year?
In the late afternoon of Thursday, June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed S.475 into law, establishing Juneteenth National Independence Day, June 19, as a legal public holiday. Established as the 12th federal holiday, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
At the federal level, the Office of Personnel Management announced Thursday that Federal workers will begin observing Juneteenth immediately. Because June 19 falls on a Saturday, the Office of Personnel Management indicated that “most federal employees will observe the holiday tomorrow, June 18th.” But what does this mean for California public school employees and students?
In California, public school holidays are governed by the Education Code, which sets forth a list of holidays on which public schools must close. In addition to the enumerated holidays such as Memorial Day and Labor Day, the law also requires school closure on all days “appointed by the President as a public fast, thanksgiving, or holiday, unless it is a special or limited holiday.” (Ed. Code § 37220(a)(12) [K-12 districts]; 79020(d) [community college districts].) The underlined language is referenced in Sections 45203 [K-12 districts] and 88203 [community college districts], pertaining to paid holidays. Because Juneteenth National Independence Day was established by way of a legislative act as opposed to an executive act of “appoint[ment] by the President,” it does not fall within the scope of Sections 37220(a)(12) and 79020(d). As such, absent statutory authority, public schools are not required to close on the newly established Juneteenth holiday following the enactment of S.475, nor must K-12 and community college districts declare it a paid holiday for their employees.
However, the California Legislature or the Governor could yet take action to establish Juneteenth as a state public holiday, which could trigger school closure and compensation for a paid holiday. For instance, if the California Legislature amends the Education Code to add Juneteenth into the list of public school holidays, then schools will be required to observe the holiday. Additionally, if the Governor appoints Juneteenth as a state public holiday, then schools will be required to close pursuant to Section 37220(a)(11) for K-12 districts and Section 79020(c) for community college districts.
Since 2004, the third Saturday in June of each year has been desginated, “Juneteenth National Freedom Day: A day of observance.” (Gov. Code,§ 6719.) But this is not a state paid holiday. On Thursday, Governor Newsom’s office noted that legislation and collective bargaining would be needed before Juneteenth became a paid holiday for California public employees. A spokesperson for the California Government Operations Agency also stated that creating a state holiday for Juneteenth in California would require legislation and, as a state holiday, it would be the subject of mandatory collective bargaining with employee groups. As of the close of business on June 17, 2021, the Governor had not taken any last-minute action to declare Juneteenth observance for June 18, 2021 in California.
It is also prudent to review board policies and collective bargaining agreements at each district to determine that a particular district is not required to observe more holidays than those required and recognized under the Education Code. For instance, if a contract language or policy defines holidays to include those that are established by federal and state law, then the District will be required to observe Juneteenth immediately.