News   /   June 18, 2021   /   

Is Juneteenth a Paid Holiday for School District Employees?


President Joe Biden signed S.475, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act (“Juneteenth Act”), into law on June 17, 2021, which established June 19 as a legal national holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States—specifically, when enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas received news of the abolition. The federal statute became law, effective immediately, and federal employees consequently observed the holiday on the preceding Friday, June 18, 2021.

Given the short notice of this development, many school districts questioned whether their employees would also be entitled to a day off on June 18, 2021, and whether those who work would receive holiday pay. The responsive legal guidance at that time noted that although the Education Code requires school closures and paid holidays for classified employees on any day “appointed by the President” as a holiday, President Biden had not officially “appointed” a holiday, but rather, signed a congressional act into federal law. As explained below, our office believes that there was such an appointment for purposes of the Education Code.

Education Code and Case Law

Education Code section 45203 provides that all probationary and permanent classified employees “shall be entitled to the following paid holidays provided they are in a paid status during any portion of the working day immediately preceding or succeeding the holiday: … every day appointed by the President, or the Governor of this state, as provided for in subdivisions (b) and (c) of Section 37220 for a public fast, thanksgiving or holiday, or any day declared a holiday under Section 1318 or 37222 for classified or certificated employees.” (Emphasis added.) Likewise, Education Code section 37220 requires public schools to close on the traditional, enumerated statutory holidays, in addition to “[a]ll days appointed by the President as a public fast, thanksgiving, or holiday, unless it is a special or limited holiday.” (Emphasis added.)[1]

The California Supreme Court has analyzed the definition of a presidential “appointment” of a holiday under sections 88203 and 79020 of the Education Code (the statutory equivalent of sections 45203 and 37220 applicable to community college districts). (California School Employees Assn. v. Governing Bd. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 333.) Specifically, the court held that for a presidential appointment of a holiday to occur, it must be shown that the President’s proclamation contemplated a national holiday, meaning that (i) the President must declare a corresponding federal holiday; and (ii) the language and tone of the proclamation must demonstrate the President’s intent to designate a national holiday.

In that case, President Bush’s proclamation of three days as “National Days of Thanksgiving” for the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War did not declare a corresponding federal holiday. Moreover, there was no indication from the language of the proclamation that these “National Days of Thanksgiving” were intended as anything more than a national ceremonial commemoration. Thus, no such national holiday was appointed, and, as the court explained, community college employees were not entitled to holiday compensation for working those days.

Juneteenth Proclamation

Although it was initially posited that President Biden’s signing the Juneteenth Act was separate and apart from an actual appointment of Juneteenth as a holiday, which would have otherwise entailed a proclamation, executive order, or other official announcement, it has since come to our attention that President Biden did indeed issue a proclamation (“Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observance, 2021”) which stated, in pertinent part:

In its celebration of freedom, Juneteenth is a day that should be recognized by all Americans. And that is why I am proud to have consecrated Juneteenth as our newest national holiday.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 19, 2021, as Juneteenth Day of Observance. [2]

Given the foregoing language, President Biden’s proclamation, with its expressed intent to establish Juneteenth as a national holiday, likely amounts to an appointment of a holiday for purposes of the Education Code. For reference, whereas President Biden’s recent proclamation regarding Father’s Day, 2021—which largely consisted of commemorating the appreciation for fathers and father figures and concluded by directing federal government buildings to display the U.S. flag on June 20, 2021[3]—was more akin to President Bush’s proclamation in California School Employees Assn. v. Governing Bd., President Biden’s Juneteenth proclamation explicitly declared Juneteenth as a national holiday, and was further highlighted by President Biden’s signing Congress’s Juneteenth Act into law.


While one may more narrowly read President Biden’s proclamation as not constituting an actual “appointment” of a holiday under the applicable legal criteria, this may likely be a thin interpretational needle to thread. As indicated above, President Biden’s proclamation, coupled with his signing the Juneteenth Act, did appear to evince his intent to establish Juneteenth as a national holiday for purposes of an “appointment” under the Education Code.

Note, however, that such a presidential appointment for purposes of the Education Code is a designation of special, nonrecurring days. (See California School Employees Assn., supra, 8 Cal.4th 333.) Thus, any final designation of Juneteenth as a paid holiday would be for this year specifically, on June 18, 2021, with any recurring Juneteenth paid holidays to be negotiated between school districts and their exclusive representatives.

In sum, our office believes it is reasonable to conclude that June 18, 2021, was a day of school closure and should be recognized as a paid holiday for classified employees under the applicable Education Code provisions above.

OMLO will continue to monitor these developments carefully. This article is for informational purposes only and only provides an overview of specific developments. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice for any particular fact situation. For actual legal advice and specifics pertaining to your governmental entity, please contact your OMLO attorney for assistance.

[1] Relatedly, Education Code section 37222 provides, as follows:

(a) On each day designated and set apart as a day having special significance, all public schools and educational institutions are encouraged to observe that day and to conduct suitable commemorative exercises.

(b) It is the intent of the Legislature that the exercises encouraged by subdivision (a) be integrated into the regular school program, and be conducted by the school or institution within the amount of time otherwise budgeted for educational programs.



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