Friday, July 01, 2005

The First Day Of School: Is This The Right Way To Go?

Around our California school district, the starting date of the school year is almost always a bone of contention between the teachers union and district administration.

The superintendent and governing board favor having the first day of school on the Tuesday following Labor Day. They say that research shows student attendance is higher with later starting dates. (Full disclosure: I support the board's assertion.)

Our union leaders always want to begin school as early as in the summer as possible, so that the last day of school is also as early as possible. (We work 180 school days, 187 contract days.) They want an early finish date so that retirees can get out of town before the arrival of summer's oppressive (and relentless) heat.

The start date is supposed to be mutually agreed on by the union and the district. Most years, through a compromise that makes no one happy but which all can live with, school ends-up beginning the week before Labor Day.

But occasionally, when union and district could not agree, (at times with much acrimony) the district's administrators exercised their statutory prerogative and unilaterally set a date. (much to the union's chagrin)

Of course the date imposed for the first day of school was after Labor Day. Not surprisingly, audits of attendance revealed that there were fewer absences during the first 20 days of school with the later start dates. I've always thought that the reason was due to the fact that so many families take vacations during the weeks prior to Labor Day.

It seems as though lawmakers in the State of Michigan also believe that a post Labor Day start-date is good for students. They are
in the process of legislating that the first day of school cannot begin before the three day holiday weekend; the statute would be applicable statewide.

This is one law that I think will prove beneficial to all parties.

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