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    Students take spontaneous holiday


    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001

    CLEARWATER -- Few are owning up to the deed, but it appears Friday was a holiday for some north Pinellas County students.

    Principals at two high schools noticed the change soon after the first bell rang.

    The parking lots had fewer cars. The halls were quieter. There were simply fewer students on campus.

    More than 400 of Countryside's 1,980 students decided to take a break Friday. An additional 32 left school with permission for appointments. Both figures are high -- even for a Friday. About 140 students are absent from Countryside on a typical day.

    "It seems like today was a skip day," said Julie Janssen, principal at Countryside High School. "We had a lot of kids out, an awful lot."

    Clearwater High School principal Nickolas Grasso told a similar story.

    "I would say that our attendance is down a little bit today as opposed to any other Friday," he said. "Several hundred students" usually are absent on a Friday, he said. This Friday, the number of students missing from the 2,100-student campus was about 10 percent higher than a normal Friday, he said.

    Where did they go?

    Probably the Florida State Fair. It opened across Tampa Bay on Thursday, and students in neighboring Hillsborough County got the day off Friday. Some Pinellas students say they're entitled to the same break.

    "It's a skip day," said Tiffany Fleck, a junior at Clearwater High School, who said she slept in Friday and snacked on pizza. "It's a holiday."

    She said she skipped school with her parents' blessing, but she declined to give her parents' names and telephone numbers.

    Other students who missed class declined to give their names at all, admitting they weren't so up-front with their parents.

    Some sucked it up and went to school because they had to.

    "I've got track practice," said Remington Sherwood, a junior at Clearwater. "You can only miss track three times."

    It wasn't such a tough day at school, Sherwood said. Some of his classes had about 15 students, about half the normal size, and his teachers chose to review old material rather than introduce new lessons. The only exception was an honors class, which he said was "normal."

    Janssen said skip days are hard on teachers. If they gave a test on Friday, they will have to write a new test for students who need a makeup test on Monday.

    The principals said they weren't surprised by the empty chairs. The holiday can't be found on calendars, but it usually goes by the name Senior Skip Day and falls in late spring.

    Both administrators have a few ideas about curtailing future absences.

    In the future, the district could find out when the fair will be in town and give students the day off, while teachers use the day for professional development, Grasso said.

    Janssen wondered aloud whether it might be better for the school to build another day into the calendar. "It might be smarter for us to add a day at the end of the year, so we can get them at their own game."

    The skip-day phenomenon wasn't universal. Principals of public high schools in Seminole and Largo said they did not record a spike in absences Friday.

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