State law would delay next year’s school start

A school bus makes its way along Cliff Gookin Boulevard near Tupelo High School last year. Next fall will bring changes for the school schedule statewide that will impact everything from exams to tourism.

A school bus makes its way along Cliff Gookin Boulevard near Tupelo High School last year. Next fall will bring changes for the school schedule statewide that will impact everything from exams to tourism.

By Chris Kieffer
Daily Journal

School is back in session.

Although the calendar barely flipped into August, many Northeast Mississippi schools will hold their first classes this week. Tupelo starts instruction tomorrow, and Lee County does so on Wednesday.

They won’t begin so early next year.

A 2012 state law prohibits the state’s schools from starting any earlier than the third Monday in August, beginning in the 2014-15 school year. That means schools can’t open their doors until Aug. 18 next year.

The law aims to help tourism on the Gulf Coast and elsewhere by adding an extra couple of weeks of beach time for Mississippi children in August. Many school superintendents oppose the change, however.

For one, it could also push first semester exams past Christmas break and into January, they say.

“Whatever they tell us to do, we’re going to do,” said Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden. “My professional opinion is the new law was not designed to increase instruction, it was designed to promote tourism on the coast and is not in the best interest of the state of Mississippi.”

Mississippi law requires schools to hold 180 days of instruction each year. Some schools could have uneven semesters with fewer days in the first and more in the second. Those on block schedule, such as both Tupelo and Lee County, would have to have the same number of days in each semester, however.

That’s because students complete four courses during the first semester and then take four different classes during the second half of the year. Thus, each semester would need to have roughly 90 days. To fit those days before Christmas, schools would have to dramatically cut holidays.

With the year starting on Aug. 18, if schools cut every holiday except one day for Labor Day and one for Thanksgiving, they could complete their 90-day semester on Dec. 23.

“I hope the Legislature will repeal that law and let us continue to do things the way we’ve done them,” said Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks.

After meeting with parents, the Tupelo School District determined it would be important to still have a week off for Thanksgiving, two weeks for Christmas and four days for Easter in order to allow families to travel for those holidays, Loden said.

According to an early draft of next year’s schedule, students would return from Christmas on Jan. 6 and have a couple of days to review before taking first-semester exams. The year would end June 2, a week after students return from the Memorial Day holiday.

Weeks said Lee County also would likely push exams after Christmas.

“I don’t think we can take up enough holidays to complete instruction time before the Christmas holidays,” he said.

Sam Bounds, the executive director of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents, said many school chiefs expressed displeasure with the law during the group’s annual conference in July.

“I think just about every superintendent I talked to is against it because they want to do what their community and their school district would like them to do,” he said. “They would like to be able to apply home rule, which they are supposed to have.”

The organization will not determine its legislative priorities until its board meets next month, but one of those could be attempting to get the law changed, Bounds said.

Proponents of the law have said it could help schools save money in cooling costs by keeping children out of classrooms in August, which often sees the hottest days of the year. Both Loden and Weeks said they do not anticipate any cost savings, however.

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  • Jack Makokov

    Pushing back the start of school for “tourism?” Just another genius idea from replublicanland. Guess it makes sense to our current leadership, since the state rebuilt casinos on the coast before rebuilding schools there.

  • nerakr

    I graduated almost 30 years ago. At that time, we started in mid-August (school wasn’t in session the day Elvis died), had finals before Christmas, graduated before Memorial Day, and still got in 180 days. We got Labor Day, 2 1/2 days for Thanksgiving, 2 weeks for Christmas, 1 week for spring break, and Good Friday. We had a few “half days” for teacher’s meetings, but no student days off for “teacher work days.” If the schools could do it then, why not now?

  • DoubleTalk

    Glad the legislature reeled in the education system. Too much wasted time during school year. Funny how years of past education did it without taking exams after Christmas. Self created problem. During my lifetime I have seen a prosperous country without th education deemed necessary today go to a poor country, well educated can’t find a job or at least a job they feel they will take.

    Tell the real deal. Some folks want the school to be their babysitter and education wants some reason for a pay raise. Cut out all those week long teacher weeks during the school year.

  • Sandra Carney Barber

    I remember starting the day after labor day. we still had exams before Christmas. of course we only had 3 days for thanksgiving and 1 day for good Friday. but we still had a whole 3 months for summer break. I don’t think this will effect us too much but we do need more time for summer break!!!!!

  • Jimmie

    Sounds like it should be voted on county by county to best suit there needs.

  • CPSmarts

    I totally agree. At what point did we get into ‘school overload’. You can cram in enough knowledge with LESS paperwork and class instruction IF IT’s QUALITY INSTRUCTION VERSUS QUANTITY INSTRUCTION. Our kids hardly have a summer break at this point. When we start them going all year round, or most the year round, they’ll start to resent school, and later on possibly also working since there’s no ‘summer time off’ when working. LET THEM BE KIDS for a change and enjoy their summers and stop pushing for adult geniuses at 12!

  • Msudawgs

    I graduated in 1988 and we went to school the last Thurs and Fri of August just to meet our teachers and get our books and find out where everything was. We then started classes after Labor Day. We got 2 days for thanksgiving, 2 weeks for Christmas and good Friday and were still out by mid to late may best i can remember. We took our test before Christmas break, Everything worked out great and we had so much fun in the summer, Now they get out and barely have time to go to church camp, and fit in a family vacation before its time to go back. Leave out all those teacher work days or have them on a Saturday.