New proposal to change start date incites discussion

Photo+by+Abby+Blitz

Photo by Abby Blitz

Elad Gov-Ari

A new proposition has sparked a conversation regarding school start dates. The Missouri Joint Committee on Education (MJCE) proposes to begin the school year in the latter half of August, after labor day. While supporters of this change cite increased economic revenue as its primary benefit, the academic and athletic consequences may offset its advantages.
David Woods, state representative and vice chairman of the MJCE, said a multitude of reasons exist for changing the start dates, with the strongest of these being the monetary value of the tourist seasons.
“There’s several reasons to move school dates up,” Woods said. “It’s [always] been discussed in regards of state fairs, vacations and tourism, which is an enormous industry in Missouri. When you take weeks out of the month of August, you take money out of tourism. When you start school before the state fair ends, you’re making students make a choice of  whether they attend the state fair, show their cattle or play in sports. It’s very difficult to do the two at the same time. Depending on your party; either agriculture, that advocate starting school at later times, or if you’re in the tourism industry, shorting that month means shortening the summer income.”
Although the fiscal value of the two weeks reaches into the millions, changing the start date may not justify the cash reward as sports and learning calendars will be greatly disrupted.
“One concern with the [school’s] start in the fall is the weather,” MSHSAA Communications Director Jason West said. “If the start is too early, the temperatures may be too warm.  If the start is too late, there could be more issues with rain or thunderstorms. There are procedures for schools on dealing with heat and lightning. Finding that ‘sweet spot’ where both factors can be avoided as much as possible [would be ideal].”
Junior football wide receiver Reece Jarvis understands West’s concerns.
“Football has offseason practices throughout the entire year and during the summer,” Jarvis said. “If the school start dates are changed, I feel like it would mess up our practice schedule, since our coaches do everything they can to prepare us for the first game of the year.”
Athletics aren’t the only worry. Columbia Public Schools (CPS) Communications Director Michelle Baumstark said starting after Labor Day would cause problems affecting more than just the sports’ schedules.
“There are a couple of things with our school calendar as of right now,” Baumstark said. “One thing is the number of minutes that schools are in session, [which] is regulated by state law…”
[quote cite=”Jason West, MSHSAA Communications Director”]“If the start is too early, the temperatures may be too warm. If the start is too late, there could be more issues with rain or thunderstorms. There are procedures for schools on dealing with heat and lightning. Finding that ‘sweet spot’ where both factors can be avoided as much as possible [would be ideal].”[/quote]
Because of this set number of minutes, a changed start date would require CPS to readjust the framework of the year by cutting into vacations, or stretching the school year into June. This would disrupt the summer school schedule.
“The thing it gets down to is being able to provide those minutes of instruction as required by law,” Baumstark said. “Whether you start earlier or later, there are some factors to consider during the middle of the year…There’d be a number of considerations to make sure we don’t jeopardize our state funding when it comes to the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) which is a huge driving point in state funding. We also have a very successful summer school program that lasts a full month during June, which also contributes to the ADA.”
Another concern voiced by MSHSAA is in regard to how many sports can be going on at the same time, as later dates means later seasons.
“One question our member schools will have to answer is how much ‘cross over’ time should there be between fall sports and winter sports,” West said. “ How much overlap [in season]  can there be between fall sports, such as football, and winter sports, such as basketball or wrestling? The answer to this will help determine how beneficial a later start to the fall seasons would be in regards to activities.”
With confusion surrounding a two-week change, Woods supports pushing forward school dates.
“The issue will keep coming up until there is some kind of resolution,” Woods said. “If I had a prediction, I would say the agricultural exemption could disappear, and you would be required [to start] no sooner than 10 days before Labor Day as current statute dictates.”
The agricultural exemption, as Woods said, is a loophole that allows Missouri schools to start before Labor Day, despite the legislature stating otherwise.
“We’ve tried to make it to where [schools] could make the days as long as you wanted and had any number of days in your calendar or year,” Woods said. “If you started later, and added 30 minutes to the day, you could end sooner in the year … I’m not a supporter of the agricultural exemption, as what it was created for is no longer needed. There are better ways to get more learning in.”
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