So what is being complained about? In no particular order the complaints follow.
First, some schools give off not only for a Jewish yom tov but for the day before the yom tov and possibly also for the day after a yom tov. In other cases there is school on the day before or day after but it is only a half day.
Also complained about is that schools give off for chol hamoed even when that chol hamoed falls during the week.
Another complaint is about the winter breaks given by the yeshivas. First, those breaks are usually a full week long, even if they may go from midweek to midweek. Second, those breaks fall in January, rather than during the secular holiday breaks that tend to go from December 24 until January 2.
Also complained about is the fact that many yeshivas either do not give off for the standard federal/state holidays, leaving the parents off but not the kids, or that they give the federal holidays off but the rest of the calendar does not mesh well with parents' schedules.
A different complaint is that there are too many half days in the yeshiva schedules, resulting in parents having to make expensive child care arrangements. Included under this complaint is that yeshivas do not adjust their Friday early dismissal schedules in early fall and late spring when school could be held for longer or for a full day because Shabbos starts later.
Under the heading of miscellany are complaints about teacher education or in-service days and about only partial school days on designated parent conference days.
There are also complaints by some parents about there being school on Sundays for some yeshivas, thereby taking away the one day when families could do things together, because the parents aren't working on Sundays. [Note: there are some parents who work on Sundays so this complaint is not universal.]Many of those complaining have cited the following: some people are still at that point in their careers where they are only receiving two weeks of paid vacation, 9 federal/state holidays and perhaps two personal days. When they add up their paid days off they are insufficient to cover all the days that their children are off from school. And these parents also have to worry about a child possibly being sick, thereby necessitating that a parent take off and stay home.
One major complaint that you hear is that because parents have to use their vacation days to cover the days when their kids are off from school there are no days left to take an actual vacation with the family.
And there is plenty of complaining about the fact that the teachers in the yeshiva system, who already have the summer off, get all those vacation days that the school is closed for with pay.
I have no intention of offering a facile solution to this problem. For one thing, there is no easy solution. But let's get some facts on the table, untinged by high emotion.
First, speaking about a "yeshiva calendar" isn't at all accurate. Every yeshiva, taking into consideration the number of state mandated teaching days in states with mandated days, sets its own calendar. Schools in the same geographic location may not all be following the same exact calendar. In addition, elementary schools and high schools will not be following the same calendar. Thus, if one school should adjust its calendar that would not necessarily make things perfect for parents who have children in more than one school. At one point I had a boy in elementary school in SI, a girl in elementary school in Brooklyn and a girl in high school in Brooklyn. None of the three calendars was identical. Add in that I was teaching in a fourth yeshiva with a different calendar from that of my children's schools and yes, I did a lot of tap dancing to figure out who was going to be where when. My experience is not a unique one; there are many other parents out there now juggling the different calendars of different schools.
Second, let's look at some "immutable" days that the yeshivas will be off. When a yom tov falls on a weekday the yeshiva will be closed. In years that the holidays all fall during the middle of the week parents are going to be using up their own vacation days even if no other days are given off by the school. That is the case this year. Not counting in any days off for chol hamoed, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first and last days of Sukkot and Pesach and Shavuous account for 13 days of school closing. Note: this is assuming, as is mostly the case, that the mother will be the one taking all of her vacation days to watch the kids when they are off. This would leave the family in something of a conundrum. The mom has no vacation days left and the dad has all his vacation days left but with no wife that could take those vacation days with him. It would make more "mathematical" sense for the husband and wife to equally take those days off to watch the kids. Doing so would allow the two of them a few days left over to actually take a vacation when they choose to do so or to cover any other days the school is closed.
For years now the yeshivas have been giving chol hamoed yom tov off for Pesach and Sukkot. It's hardly a secret. Thus, parents don't even need to see a school's calendar to know that those days will be off. Just why is that the parents who work are talking about having to "scramble" to find child care options when they know well in advance that the schools will be closed? With many months prior notice parents have more than enough time to work out alternative child care arrangements
Just a note: what are some of those alternative arrangements? First, you could hire a baby sitter to be there for the children. Second, you could arrange with others in the neighborhood to alternate watching each other's kids. Third, since the high schools are also off it should be possible to talk to a few high school girls who might run some kind of chol hamoed program for the younger children or even to straight babysit. Fourth, there is no reason why local shuls could not be used for such a chol hamoed program; many larger shuls already provide such programming. Fifth, it is possible that there are family members who might watch the children if given sufficient time beforehand to prepare their own schedules to accomodate. Sixth, there are some businesses that would accomodate a parent by allowing that parent to bring a child with them to work if need be.
There are inevitably going to be days off from school that aren't directly for holiday observance. Some of those days are state/federally mandated. [Note: even here not all schools will give off on all of these holidays or may only give a half day, usually with limudei kodesh studies still taking place in the mornings and a half day off for secular studies in the afternoon. Many yeshivas are not closed on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas or New Years or Martin Luther King Day etc..] Some days off are not holiday related but are for school business, such as testing days or conference days. Again, these are usually not "state secrets" but are known well in advance, such that arrangements for child care can also be made well in advance.
About those early Friday dismissals and readjusting them as the time for Shabbos grows later. At least in NYC, the yeshivas receive bus transportation through the city board of education. The arrangement works out mostly because yeshivas and the public schools don't run on the same time table for arrival and dismissal. The bus companies can do their public school runs and then come pick up the yeshiva students Monday through Thursday. On Friday they pick up the yeshiva students and then do their public school runs. If a yeshiva changes its times of dismissal such that the time overlaps with the public school dismissal time, the yeshiva won't have any transportation for its students. This would mean that parents would still be making "child care" arrangements in having to find people willing to pick up their children and deliver them home.
About giving off on a taanis. Elementary schools have a problem in that some of their students will be fasting--those in the upper grades--and some will not. Some schools solve this problem by giving a full day or a half day off only to the upper grades; some schools find the scheduling and transportation easier if they simply don't have school at all for anyone. High schools presumably have everyone fasting so they do the kids a favor and let them off for the day. Yes, yes, I know, working parents are also fasting and don't have any options but to go to school so why should the teachers in the school get off easy and not have to work. Hello, people, those are your kids we are talking about, not a handful of teachers.
Here's the thing: working parents are going to have a problem with the yeshiva calendar no matter what the schools do. Could some of the calendars be constructed better? Sure, but no school calendar is going to be a "perfect" solution for any given set of parents, certainly not for all the parents in any given school, and certainly not across all schools in a given city.
Let's face some unpalatable facts. When both parents work there is NO yeshiva calendar that is not going to play havoc with their work schedules. Working parents with young children who cannot be left home alone are going to be in for child care expenses no matter what the yeshivas do. Yeshivas/schools, like any other business, have days that are only partial days for the students because of legitimate "business" concerns that require those half days. Some parents, and that is only some parents, would find that having the calendar adjusted so that the winter break coincides with the secular holidays would be beneficial. I've heard a lot about how the offices these parents work in are so unbusy during that time that taking some vacation days would be just perfect then. Could we keep in mind that not all yeshiva parents work in the exact same fields and that for some parents the time period of the secular holidays is not only busy but way busier than usual?
In short, yes there could be some areas of a yeshiva calendar that could be tweaked by some yeshivas to provide some relief for working parents. But there is never going to be a wholesale calendar that will make everyone happy. Working parents are always going to find themselves having conflicts between their work schedules and the school schedules. And yes, there are always going to be conflicts between what one set of parents wants/needs and what other sets of parents want/need. Even if the schools could manage to make the majority of parents happier, there are still going to be lots of parents who aren't happy. Fact of life.