Why do schools start when they do? Here’s what they consider when deciding

Updated Oct 13, 2018

When school districts and buildings start classes for the year, which happened for the first time this school year earlier on August 8 in the Dayton area, it is a decision that impacts tens of thousands of families each year.

Administrators said they strongly consider when to start school because of the possible impact on families, summer jobs, testing preparation and more. State lawmakers could possibly have their own say in the matter, as legislation has been proposed that would force schools to start after Labor Day, while districts listen to feedback from committees and the community.

Start dates have held steady for the past several years, said Jay Smith, deputy director of legislative services at the Ohio School Board Association. Most school districts start the year around mid-August. Many believe starting earlier can help a school better prepare students for state testing, but many start in mid-August so schools can complete the first semester before winter break.

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“They’re trying to get through that first semester so that kids aren’t leaving for two weeks and then coming out and taking exams (after a break),” Smith said.

Two bills introduced in the state legislature would mandate that schools to start after Labor Day. Proponents say postponing school until after Labor Day would better supply the tourism industry with students for summer jobs. Smith said districts already seek out community feedback when they develop calendars and districts are best suited to identify the needs of their students themselves.

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“We just see this as another (possible) state mandate that seeks to take away local control and local authority from our local boards of education,” Smith said. “We just believe that there’s already plenty of flexibility.”

School boards often seek feedback from a variety of sources as they develop their calendars. Dayton Education Association President David Romick said the Dayton School Board develops its calendar with the help of a committee that includes Romick, administrators, school principals and representatives of the employees who transport students.

The committee examines holidays, testing windows and attendance trends. A few years ago, when officials noticed attendance was low during the week of Thanksgiving, the board extended Thanksgiving break to include the whole week.

Romick said teachers as a whole don’t have a strong stance on whether the school year should start early or late.

“I bet if we surveyed them it’d be a fifty-fifty thing,” he said. “Some people would probably prefer to start after Labor Day; some people would probably prefer to get out earlier.”

Miamisburg City School District’s first day of school came Wednesday. Superintendent David Vail said the district started to bring students back in August a few years ago, and although getting a head start for standardized testing is a “perk,” the main concern was ensuring students could take exams for fall semester before leaving for winter break.

Another unique part of the district’s calendar is a one week break in October, foe which Miamisburgstarts school earlier than most local schools. The district will continue to evaluate whether to keep the fall break in future years, and Vail said he expects that debate to be “contentious.”

“The other day, a neighbor, she said, ‘How can we start a week later, like some of the other school districts in the area?’” Vail said. “I said, ‘Well, we can eliminate fall break,’ and she said, ‘No, no, no, no, we’re not doing that.’”

Students in Urbana City Schools will start school on Sept. 11, a week after Labor Day. Urbana City Schools Superintendent Charles Thiel said that isn’t the district’s typical start date, and next year the school year will likely start earlier. The district is starting school later to allow for construction on a new PreK-through-eighth-grade building.

The district’s other option would have been to move into the new building during winter break, which Thiel said would be “a big undertaking.” The late start isn’t ideal, and he said he believes it will likely impact testing.

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“We won’t have as much instructional time with students prior to the testing,” Thiel said. “We’ll be starting school at about the time that everyone else who starts at a traditional schedule will have their routines down … We’re not going to get into routine (until around) October.”