2017-12-06 / Front Page

Schools seek early start date

Classes could begin pre-Labor Day
BY STEVEN KOVAC
810-452-2694 • skovac@mihomepaper.com


Duane Lange Duane Lange Most Sanilac County school superintendents have gone on record favoring moving the first day of school to sometime before Labor Day.

Their problem is a state law says a local school board “shall ensure that the district’s school year does not begin before Labor Day.”

The law was passed in 2005 with strong support from the business community, especially the tourism and recreation industries. It took affect in the 2006-2007 school year.

However, there is a provision in the law which allows a district, for good cause, to request a one-year, annually renewable, waiver of the law, and there is a clause allowing an intermediate school district to request a three-year waiver.

Intermediate School District Superintendent Duane Lange told the News he favors the early start date, saying, “I have filed a pre-Labor Day waiver request with the state. If it is approved we will have the option of starting before Labor Day. We won’t make any decision until the waiver request is approved. We would need to stay together as a county as far as a start date.”

“We have submitted, through the ISD, a waiver to the state to allow us to start school before Labor Day,” said Neil Kohler, superintendent of Brown City Schools. “We are awaiting a response. If we get approval from the state the matter would then go to the seven local school boards to see what each locality wants to do.

“I think it would be beneficial to go three days, like Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, before Labor Day weekend. It would help us with getting kids settled back into school and shorten their time away during the summer.

“Starting early would help get some of the procedural steps out of the way sooner. Things like high school schedule changes. It would also help us to structure the yearly calendar for more staff professional development throughout the school year.”

Kohler added, “A large number of high school students are already back in early August for sports and band.”

Also favoring the idea of an earlier start date is CPS Superintendent James Stewart, who stated, “I do support Sanilac County’s waiver request… I see several advantages for students. Students lose ground academically over the summer. Shortening the summer vacation will help reduce the ‘summer slide.’

“I really like that schools would be able to provide a couple little breaks in other parts of the year that would give students a little rest, and provide the staff time to work together.

“I remember when schools used to start in August, and I remember how much students and staff enjoyed it,” said Stewart.

Marlette Superintendent Sarah Barratt wrote in an email, “I do believe a pre-Labor Day start would be advantageous for Marlette Community Schools. It would allow us to plan a schedule that eases our youngest learners into K-12 school… We could schedule a 2-day week, then a 3-day week, then the 4-day week of Labor Day, and finally a 5-day week after that.

“An earlier start would also allow our students enrolled in college classes to more closely mimic a true post-secondary schedule… Our high school athletic teams currently start contests before the school year begins, and an earlier start would allow opportunities to build school spirit,” said Barratt.

Sandusky Schools Superintendent Paul Flynn commented, “The first few days of school routinely deal with student schedule changes, distributing materials, and setting expectations. Then introductions of the course work can begin.

“Many students at the secondary level have already returned for athletics and band camps, so it seems as if it wouldn’t be an issue with many families. The other perceived benefit is getting done earlier in June,” said Flynn.

Flynn also said he was sensitive to any impact an early school start might have on the county fair which, he said, “is an important consideration in our county.”

The fair runs for a week near the end of August.

Peck Superintendent Frank Johnson weighed in on the issue, saying, “The before Labor Day start would not be advantageous to Peck. It would conflict with the Sanilac County Fair, and this summer we will have construction occurring and therefore would need the extra time.”

Deckerville Superintendent Michael Hugan stated, “There is currently no discussion in our district in regard to starting the school year earlier, although I am aware that an ISD-wide waiver has been applied for from the state, in order to at least open up the option.”

Hugan said that, with or without the pre-Labor start, the school year would remain 180 days. He also expressed concern that the “summer slide” resulting from a long summer vacation, is more pronounced “among low-income and at-risk students, who are not exposed to the same level of enrichment activities as their more economically privileged peers.

“The best way to reduce ‘summer-slide’ is to adopt a balanced calendar, which spreads out the 180 days over a longer period of time and reduces the length of summer vacation,” said Hugan.

Superintendent Dan Gilbertson of Croswell- Lexington Schools sees both advantages and disadvantages to an early start date.

Gilbertson cited many of the academic benefits mentioned by his colleagues. He also observed, “In our district, early middle college students have already started their school year.”

On the downside, Gilbertson said, “Some families schedule vacations leading up to Labor Day weekend and through the holiday. This may be the only time for them to travel together during the summer break.”

An array of Michigan businesses and trade organizations oppose an early school start because of the adverse economic impact it would have on the tourist and recreation industries, which are huge in Sanilac County.

Opponents include the State Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Boating Association, Michigan Small Business Association, Michigan Grocers Association, Michigan Association of Conventions and Visitors Bureau, the R.V. and Campground Association, and the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association.

The trade groups point out that July, and especially August, are the hot vacation times in our state.

They also assert that, in the year after the state law took affect, spending on tourism jumped by 20 million dollars.

Many businesses, dependent on seasonal high school workers, have expressed opposition to a pre-Labor Day start because it would reduce manpower during prime vacation time when it is greatly needed.

The organizations also cite polls indicating that more than 60% of people surveyed oppose the early start idea, while only 32% are in favor.

As of July 2017, 123 of Michigan’s roughly 900 school districts have been granted waivers by the Michigan Department of Education.

Michigan is one of three states that start school after Labor Day.

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