Calendar decision needs to be local

Friday, December 19, 2014

Any decision regarding when to start and end a school year involves a choice on what has to be sacrificed regarding summer break activities.

A state law requires school districts to start school no earlier than the week on which Sept. 1 falls, meaning that the 2015/16 school year cannot begin before Monday, Aug. 31 unless the Iowa Department of Education (DOE) grants a waiver.

In past years, most school districts have applied for waivers and been granted them automatically, but that automatic approval comes to end according to Brad Buck, director of the DOE.

The reasons schools apply for waivers are because the districts try to get the first semester over by the Christmas holiday break; because college classes, including those open for high school students to earn college credit, start in August; because practices for fall sports begin in August; because a school year that extends into June would create difficulties for staff members pursuing continuing education and because even more of the youth baseball and softball season would overlap the school year.

For districts that are not climate controlled at all grade levels, trying to hold school in mid-August can be problematic since that time of the year is typically hotter than early June.

However, a growing number of districts have climate-controlled environments.

That does not appear to be the issue that motivated Buck to write a letter to school administrators across the state announcing the policy change. The letter did not describe the motivation other than "the Department has received numerous complaints from parents and community members."

The real motivation for the law when it was passed and the current decision to more strictly enforce it has been widely believed to be the tourist industry dependent on student workers as well as customer families who are late summer vacationers.

Cherokee Superintendent John Chalstrom has publicly objected to state government taking this decision out of the hands of local school boards.

We concur. The school calendar needs to be a matter decided at the local level.

The DOE needs to grant waiver requests automatically until this ill-conceived law is repealed.