Panel to mull later school year start

DOVER — Proposed legislation could see students heading back to the classroom after a little later next year.

In a bill sponsored by Sen. Gerald Hocker, schools would be required to start their academic year after Labor Day.

“This is a win-win proposal for our great state,” Sen. Hocker wrote in a letter earlier this month. “This proposal is the law in Michigan, and it helps families with their vacations, tourism, and young people with summer jobs.”

Sen. Hocker noted that a post-Labor Day start would benefit economic development in the state, employment for teenagers and tourism at Delaware resorts.

The bill cites a report by the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association, which estimates that “$369 million would be lost if schools were not required to start after Labor Day. This includes $104 million in wages and $21 million in state and local taxes.”

In Maryland, which is undergoing a similar consideration, a study found a later start date for school would generate $74.3 million in economic activity and $7.7 million in new state and local tax revenue, according to Sen. Hocker.

Should the legislation pass — it’s up for discussion during the Senate’s education committee today in its first legislative hurdle — it would take effect for the 2020-2021 school year.

In January, however, some districts have already begun to draft their school calendars — working with committees and public opinion to craft a calendar that hits the requirement that students must spend 1,060 hours in classroom instruction and that teachers must be in school for 188 days, while also considering holidays, extra days in the case of inclement weather, standard testing schedules and more.

“It’s not just one thing,” said Raymond Gravuer, supervisor of special programs for Appoquinimink School District, who works on the district’s calendar. “Everything has a ripple effect and that’s what the committee takes into consideration when they’re making the calendar.”

Several years ago, Appoquinimink surveyed its community and found that it preferred an after-Labor Day start to the year. This year, that posed an issue, as in 2020 Labor Day falls late, on Sept. 7, Mr. Gravuer said.

With the holiday later this year and the presidential election — when students cannot be in class — students would be in school well into June if the district started later, Mr. Gravuer noted.

That poses its own difficulties, too, he said.

“During the summer, we still have students who need help because they didn’t master the materials the first time through it, and they have to go to summer school with a shortened summer schedule,” he said, adding that Appoquinimink’s summer school typically starts around the last week of June. “If you’re not going to close school until after Father’s Day, what are you going to do about turning those kids around through summer programming?”

Should the legislation pass, Mr. Gravuer said that Appoquinimink would reconvene its committee to address the change.

“I think local control makes the most sense,” Mr. Gravuer added. “We do have conversations with our community. Maybe not everyone is happy, but they understand the decisions and respect that we have open lines of communication.”

Capital, Lake Forest, Caesar Rodney, Woobridge and Seaford school districts all started before Labor Day in 2019.

Cape Henlopen, Indian River and Milford school districts — the districts that are closest to the beaches — started school following Labor Day this year.

Stephanie DeMalto, a spokeswoman for Cape Henlopen School District, noted that the district has always started after Labor Day, “so this legislation wouldn’t really change anything for us.”

Milford, however, is considering an earlier start date for the same reason as Appoquinimink.

“Labor Day falling later in September than it has during the past few years, as well as school closures associated with the 2020 elections has weighed heavily in this consideration,” Superintendent Kevin Dickerson said in an email.

The district’s calendar was drafted by a committee. A second draft was brought to the school board in December. A third draft is appearing before the board in January.

“We develop the student calendar on an annual basis and make decisions that best serve our students, families and district-community,” he said. “During the evaluation of the calendar, we engage in significant discussion around the start and end dates. We are mindful of the possible impacts of the starting date as well as not ending our school year too late in the summer months which could interfere with summer programming in our schools and community. Several proposals are discussed including drafts with possible starts prior to Labor Day and after Labor Day.”

Dr. Dickerson noted that the district is aware of the proposed legislation and said it “will adjust to any mandates for a post-Labor Day start for Delaware students as necessary.”