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An ancient tradition explains why city students have today off

Across the city, kids are staying home today for an odd mid-week day off, while their teachers are reporting for duty. The reason: A professional development day that was created in the current teachers’ contract to replace an antiquated celebration called Brooklyn-Queens Day.

Celebrated until 2006, Brooklyn-Queens Day grew out of parades held in the two boroughs in the 19th century to honor Sunday School teachers at local churches. On the first Thursday in June, schools were closed so that children could march through the streets, wearing their Sunday best and singing the praises of their religious school teachers. The Brooklyn Eagle counted 78,000 children participating in 1896, when the governor made an appearance to view the procession. The state legislature officially made the day a holiday in 1905 for Brooklyn and 1959 for Queens.

But by 1991, according to the New York Times, no one could quite remember why some students got an extra day off in early June. The teachers contract that went into effect in 2005 officially ended the tradition, extending the day off to students across the city but requiring teachers to use the day to plan their lessons. The Department of Education’s online calendar emphasizes that today is a professional development day for teachers “IN ALL FIVE BOROUGHS” (the capital letters are the department’s).

At least some schools are still in session today. They are all charter schools, which do not have to adhere to the public school calendar. I heard from a staff member at a charter school who said, “No time for Brooklyn-Queens Day — we’ve got TerraNovas to take!” The staff member was referring to standardized tests that some schools use to assess their students.