Once again, kids are going back to school in Ohio. And once again, a state lawmaker is saying that school shouldn’t be starting in the middle of August.
When the first bell of the 2016-17 school year rang, there were certainly plenty of parents who were relieved at the end of summer break. But perhaps just as many were upset. Sen. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) says she’s been hearing from the latter group – parents who are angry that school is starting when the weather is still hot or when they want to do a family trip together. “Many of their kids are in school programs – either academic or sports – and those often stop the end of July. And they want to take their kids on a vacation and they can’t do it.”
And she notes that several districts have many students involved in county fairs that go on throughout the summer. So Manning has proposed legislation that would require public schools to start their academic year after Labor Day. It’s not the first time such a bill has been put forward, so school districts and boards have been prepared for this. Damon Asbury is the director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association. He said the law requires kids to be in class for 920 hours a year, and the calendar has to reflect that. “We find parents and families like the spring break to be longer and Christmas breaks to be longer, the holiday breaks in general, so I think that leads to changing the calendar to earlier start dates and earlier ending of the school dates,” Asbury said.
Asbury said Ohio is no longer dominated by agriculture, so there’s no need to have the school calendar reflect an agrarian economy. And he says that local school boards create district calendars with guidance from the state – but that it is a community decision. Manning said she wants to preserve that local control in her bill. “So one thing we did put in there that school systems can opt out if they have a public meeting at least 30 days before they do their calendar. If the parents are fine with that, let it be. But these school board members need to make sure that their family members, that’s what they want.”
But Asbury said community input is already a part of the creation of school calendars. “The school calendars are not just involving the board. It involves a community group that helps to decide and make recommendations," Asbury said. "The board has to ultimately approve it, but you get a lot of input from staff, from community members, local businesses that what’s going to work best.”
Previous bills have required the school year to start no earlier than Labor Day and to finish before Memorial Day. While support from those plans has come from the tourism industry, opposition has focused on concerns about trying to compact all the required learning for a year into that time frame. But Manning said her bill does not set Memorial Day as the school year endpoint – so she feels that gives it a better chance at passing. But Asbury said with so little time for lawmakers to consider so many bills in the lame duck session after the November election, he’s not sure the bill will get far.