ELYRIA, Ohio-– Extreme heat that prompted dozens of schools to close on Tuesday has given momentum to a push to start the school year in Ohio after Labor Day, but some districts – including the Elyria City School District – already begin then.
While many districts say an earlier start gives students more time to prepare for state testing and to finish their first semester tests before winter break, Elyria says it tried an earlier school year and it didn't work for students and families.
“After Labor Day, our kids are ready to come back, our teachers ready to come back, our parents are ready for the kids to come back,” said Elyria City School District spokesperson Amy Higgins.
She said the district has historically begun classes after Labor Day, in part due to older school buildings that don’t have air conditioning, though it plans to keep the schedule even as buildings are updated.
Higgins said the district has moved professional development days for staff to the days before students start and shaved some days from breaks during the school year. The later start allows more time to get classrooms ready and put staff in place.
It tried a mid-August start in 2016, but it didn’t go over well with families.
“A lot of our families are involved in the county fair; a lot of our kids are in 4-H, so that's always at the end of August. It was difficult from that perspective for families, but also, families do a lot of vacationing in August,” Higgins said.
State Senator Gayle Manning, a Republican who represents Ohio’s 13th District, wants other districts to start after Labor Day.
“Kids aren’t learning today if they’re in the classroom,” she said.
The former teacher of 37 years is sponsoring Senate Bill 34, which would require most public and charter schools to start after Labor Day. Districts could opt out after having a public meeting at least 30 days before setting the academic calendar. House Bill 549 is similar.
“All I'm asking is give these residents of that district a chance to weigh in and say what they prefer,” Sen. Manning said. “They're the ones paying the tax bill.”
Sen. Manning said she is working with the Ohio Department of Education to move back state testing, which currently begins in March.
“We're working with the Ohio Department of Education to offer an amendment that would push the tests back until May and try to get the results back as quickly as possible after that,” she said. Sen. Manning encouraged supporters to contact their lawmakers.
She noted that a later start could also boost tourism.
The Buckeye Association of School Administrators, which represents superintendents, and the Ohio School Boards Association, each oppose a mandated start date and favor local control.
“We believe that this is a decision best made at the local level by the members of the elected boards of education. There is nothing in law today that prevents a school district from starting school after Labor Day. In addition, current law requires a public hearing on the school calendar at least thirty days prior to the calendar’s adoption,” said Tom Ash, BASA Director of Governmental Relations.
Jay Smith, Deputy Director of Legislative Services for OSBA, said there are already opportunities for community input on school calendars.
He said OSBA does favor changes in testing.
“We support any flexibility we can get in regard to that state mandated testing window,” Smith said.