OUR OPINION: Restore local districts’ control of school dates

The Legislature acted last week to repeal a law passed in 2012 that micromanages the fall start of public school terms in Mississippi, a decision best left to local districts and their leaders statewide.

The bill has gone to Gov. Phil Bryant, and we urge him to sign the legislation and restore to the districts a decision they can make better than the Mississippi Gulf Coast tourism lobby that sought it in the first place.

Mississippi schools historically have set starting and ending dates at the district level, and there’s some variation measured in days, not weeks.

The central issues in returning to the earlier starting date – early August for many school districts – is an academic schedule geared to completing the first semester before the Christmas holidays and remaining in sync with state testing dates. A later start, not before the third week in August under existing law, would throw semester exams until after Christmas and place the academic regimen out of sync with testing.

Many, if not most, superintendents, principals and school trustees support the early start because it enables unbroken academic momentum before the winter beak.

The second semester can begin on the first day of return to classes after Christmas without a pause for exams.

Opponents of the early start cite the hot August temperatures and humidity and students’ safety in extra-curricular activities.

All schools use precautions during those hot days, as they do even in September when football, band and other activities are in full participation.

It is no hotter on a football or band practice field than on a summer league baseball or softball diamond or other organized summer sports/recreation program played in the sizzling heat of June and July. Those, like the fall activities in schools, are purely voluntary.

Almost all Mississippi schools are air-conditioned in academic spaces, a vast improvement over decades of sweltering classrooms used by former generations of students, teachers and administrators.

The measure sent to the governor was a product of the rank-and-file membership of the House and Senate listening to and responding to their constituents in support of the early school start and local control.

District control of school calendars has worked for decades, and it should be restored.