By Chris Kieffer
Mississippi public schools likely will open their doors earlier in August than originally anticipated.
That’s because state lawmakers are expected to repeal a 2012 law preventing them from starting classes before the third Monday in August. In recent years, many Northeast Mississippi schools have started as early as the first week of that month, and superintendents indicated they likely will continue to do that, if allowed.
“We’ve always felt like the local district should be the one to set the start date,” said New Albany Superintendent Jackie Ford.
The House on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 2571, which repeals the 2012 law. It was later held for a day on a motion to reconsider, but if House members reject that, it would go to Gov. Phil Bryant for his signature.
During Tuesday’s debate, proponents of local control voted 66-52 to reject changes that would have first sent the bill back to the Senate for more work.
House Education Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, said superintendents pressured House members to repeal the law, which would have pushed the first day of school back to Aug. 18 this year. Gulf Coast tourism officials persuaded lawmakers to set the later date, saying more vacation would boost the economy.
Superintendents, however, said the later start would force those on block schedules to push first-semester exams after the Christmas holiday. Those schools, including Tupelo and Lee County high schools, would have to hold review dates in early January, then give the exams and then start the new semester, instead of having a clean break.
Also, they said, the earlier start allows them to complete the school year before Memorial Day and to spread teacher training days throughout the year.
“We like the freedom of having one professional development day in October and one in February to hit on things we feel like we are missing in the first few days,” said Monroe County Superintendent Scott Cantrell.
Tupelo already has approved a calendar with the later start, but Superintendent Gearl Loden said the district will revise that if the repeal is signed by the governor. Under the new draft, school would start on Aug. 4, graduation would be May 15 and the last day for other students would be May 20, pending board approval.
“Allowing us to go back to our traditional calendar will allow us to have our semesters more evenly divided, will allow us to have exams before Christmas and will allow us to end school before Memorial Day,” Loden said.
Superintendents in New Albany, Monroe County and Lee County also said they would push up their start dates. Monroe County likely would begin on Aug. 7 and New Albany on Aug. 11, pending board approval.
Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said the district would build a new schedule reflecting the change next week.
“I’m very pleased that districts will be given a choice on start date,” Weeks said. “I feel sure that Lee County will continue to start the first week of August like we always have. We’ve found that calendar to be best considering all the testing and exam dates in relation to semester beginning and end dates.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.