Early Start to the School Year Could Be Abolished

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Many school officials are angry that they weren’t asked about a plan to push the start of classes to later in the summer. The bill generating the hard feelings would forbid school districts from starting any earlier than two weeks before Labor Day.

High school principal Rocky Hanna is angry that lawmakers are telling school districts they can’t start classes earlier than two weeks before Labor Day.

This messes up his plans to wrap up first semester exams before the break at the winter holidays.

“I don’t know who they’re talking to. I really do not understand, and if it’s our local politicians, our local representatives from the House, I have not spoken to one person. No one has called Leon High School and said, hey, what do you think about starting school around Labor Day?”

The bill to mandate a statewide school start date is one of the more controversial ones this year. It’s pitting North Florida districts against South Florida, and some parent groups against educators.

Florida’s powerful tourist industry is pushing hard for the later start dates. Otherwise they lose teen workers too early, and families run out of time to vacation at the beach or a theme park.

Education Committee Chair Ralph Arza says he’s got to weigh their interests, too, “We have to be cognizant that these are our economic engines and whatever we do can hurt them or help them.”

But others like Rep. Curtis Richardson of Tallahassee want the decision left up to individual school districts, “The start dates should be based on what the needs of families in that community are.”

It’s likely to be one of the final issues decided as the legislative session grinds to a close.

If the bill passes, it would take effect beginning with the 2007-2008 school year, unless a school board decided to start this fall. The bill (SB 306) has passed the Senate and is awaiting a final vote in the House. A House version was amended by the Senate and sent back to the House today for another vote.