School officials: we should decide calendar

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

For years local schools have determined when school should start and when it should end for the academic year, but if the Alabama State Legislature has its way, that will change.

In committee now are HB507 and SB308, both of which – if successful – will dictate the start of school, pushing the first day back to at least Aug. 21.

While the bills don’t list a reason for pushing the first day of school back, school officials say the reason is money.

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“The philosophy behind House Bill 507 and Senate Bill 308 is that Alabama’s tourism industry needs school to start later because camps, museums, restaurants, condos and the like will lose money and access to cheap student labor if school boards continue to choose calendars that reflect the needs of their particular students and communities,” Marengo County Superintendent Luke Hallmark stated in a letter to The Demopolis Times.

Wesley Hill, Superintendent of Demopolis City Schools, agrees.

“(Pushing the date back) is to try to make more money,” he said. “But I don’t know how they think they’re going to make more money.”

Sen. Zeb Little (D-Cullman), who sponsored SB308, said the tourism industry has take a hit financially since school calendars have inched into summer vacations, but said the main reason behind the bill was to make summer vacation scheduling a bit easier on families.

“It has been a burden on families not to have that extra time,” he said. “Extended calendars have created fall breaks and other breaks during the year that make it hard on families where both parents work.”

Hill and Hallmark argue that pushing the start date back, however, would create problems for students regarding testing.

Both men agreed the current calendar, which puts the first day of school sometime during the second week of August, is designed to make the academic year more amenable to students.

“We try to schedule the start of school so that the first semester ends before Christmas break,” Hill said. He explained that a later date means students will have Christmas break, which is usually at least two to three weeks, off and then have to return to school and take semester exams.

“When they can take the exams before Christmas, then they can relax and enjoy the break,” he said.

When asked about the semester exams, Little replied, “I went K through 12th and we never had a problem finishing exams before Christmas.” He added that he never started school before Aug. 21.

The two superintendents also noted the graduation exit exam and said teachers and students need that additional instructional time to prepare for that.

“Teachers need as much time as possible to prepare the students for the tests on which students’ and schools’ success of failure will be judged,” Hallmark stated in his letter.

Hill agreed. “The earlier we can start the more instruction we can get in before the exit exams are given.”

All arguments may be moot, Little said, because for now the bill has become stagnant.

“I think that bill is dead at this time,” he said.