The week before school began in August, I felt like there wasn’t time to catch our breath. Between baseball, the mid-July Colorado family vacation, work deadlines, and an out-of-town weekend wedding, the summer was short this year. The sweltering heat that began in June and July still felt tropical when the school doors opened. Did we take advantage of the season or did we rush it?
With the introduction of two bills in the Ohio General Assembly (Senate Bill 34 introduced in 2017 and House Bill 549 in March) to start schools after Labor Day, could we enjoy the summer longer and get more prepared for school?
According to the testimony provided during committee hearings, many proponents of the bills who are in the travel and tourism industry argue that starting after the holiday would provide longer work opportunities for high schoolers seeking summer employment. They cited the educational, social and economical benefits for teens. Also, how families and children can enjoy quality time outdoors and hands-on learning through summer activities.
School district officials and parents who testified for the issue worried about the many students who are in classrooms with no air conditioning during August, a month with plenty of humid and high temperature days.
In fact, two area school districts, Columbia Local Schools in Columbia Station and Elyria Local Schools, changed their 2017-18 calendars due to heat, in addition to some other reasons.
Amy Higgins, marketing and communications director at Elyria Schools, says while the primary reason to have school start after Labor Day was the August heat, the decision provides the school district a better schedule for staffing needs, building maintenance and professional development.
For both school districts, it also allows the many students involved in 4-H to participate in the Lorain County Fair, which usually takes place at the end of August.
Since the schedule changed, Columbia Local Schools Superintendent Graig Bansek says there has been all positive feedback from parents and staff.
“Parents are able to take vacation with their kids, (those students in summer employment) have more time to work and make money,” he says. “It also provides the district extended time to get our construction and renovation projects completed.”
He adds that before school begins, the district has its open houses and teachers are able to complete their professional development.
Those who oppose the bills argue that starting after Labor Day is not aligned with the state’s testing schedule and could impact the required instruction time from the state. According to the Ohio Department of Education, the minimum yearly hours for students in half-day kindergarten is 455; 910 hours for full-day kindergarten through sixth grade; and 1,001 hours for grades seventh through 12th.
Bansek says Columbia Local Schools increased the school day by 18 minutes to accommodate the schedule change and early data shows that it did not have an impact on student assessments; in fact, he adds, one positive factor is that test scores have risen.
“There are a lot of variables that go into the education of a child,” he says.
Higgins notes the students are ready to come back to school when starting after Labor Day.
“The families are happy about it,” she says. “They like starting after Labor Day. It’s a much more friendly schedule for their autumn.”
While the two bills are still in committee and being worked on in the General Assembly, school districts like Columbia and Elyria gained feedback from their school community and decided to make the change — without the government’s help.