One of the biggest dreams of students everywhere is to have a longer summer break. Although many area schools have already been in session for weeks now, that dream may, in fact, live on.
Recently, Senate Bill 346, a legislative proposal to require public and charter schools to open for instruction only after Labor Day was introduced in the Ohio Senate- drawing sharp criticism from local school officials.
Senator Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville), the sponsor of the bill said teachers have shared stories of hot classrooms.
“Overall we have seen more positive feedback than negative,” she said. “We have received dozens of emails from teachers from across the state sharing their stories about how their classrooms are unbearable during this time of year. Also, parents have shared with us how their kids are miserable when they come home because the classroom is too warm.”
Currently, all Ohio schools are mandated to be in session for 1,001 hours in grades 7-12. However, there is currently no statute of when school districts must open and close their school year.
The most common means county schools currently use to set their calendar for the year is a calendar committee made up of the district’s teachers and administrators. Once a draft is decided, the district’s staff, through individual means or that of a union, are welcome to give input before the calendar is presented to the school board for approval.
Mandating a statewide starting period would take part of the process out of the hands of the independent school districts, many Fulton County school superintendents argue.
Jim Wyse, superintendent of Evergreen Local Schools, is concerned about making sure all students are best-prepared academically in all their current and future endeavours. He especially considers the popularity of Ohio’s College Credit Plus program, allowing students to enroll in school approved college courses, in addition to their standard classes, during the academic year.
“An early start helps those high school students enrolled in at least one college course to have a high school schedule that closely mirrors their college schedule,” Wyse said.
He also emphasised the need for relaxation in the midst of the school year; citing that starting school later would likely mean moving semester exams until after Christmas break, forcing students to hit the books during their time away from the classroom.
“With all of the high stakes tests facing students, we need to save classroom time for instruction and allow students some time to relax over their vacations,” he said.
That’s a sacrifice Senator Tom Patton (R-Strongsville), the sole co-sponsor of the bill, is willing to make.
He stresses that returning to the once traditional longer summer break means more family time, which is all-important in the modern world.
“Summer time is the time hopefully you’re able to connect more with your kids,” he said.
In 2005, the Michigan legislature passed a similar law, requiring all schools to start their academic year after Labor Day. The passing was a feat many state tourism lobbyists praised. Now Senator Cliff Hite (R-Findlay), who represents part of Fulton, Swancreek, and York townships in Fulton County, believes the tourism industry is looking to turn a profit once again, but this time in Ohio.
“Amusement parks don’t want to lose all their workers,” he said.
In the eyes of Pettisville Local Schools Superintendent Steve Switzer, that is absurd. Along with his concerns regarding the impact a longer summer break would have on a learning regression, Switzer believes education should stand alone.
“Educational needs and guidelines should not be controlled by outside interests but by what is educationally best for students”, he urged.
Complementing all the other shared concerns of the educators was the effect the calendar change would have on standardized testing. Administered by the State of Ohio, standardized tests start earlier once again for the 2016-17 year.
Jeff Schlade, superintendent of Swanton Local Schools, said, “The unfortunate consequence of starting later is that unless the required testing dates — interestingly enough also set by the state — are adjusted accordingly, we have fewer days with the students in order to provide them the necessary instruction to be as successful as possible on those.”
The most common theme amongst the superintendents growing concerns, however, is the disconnect between the statehouse and the local education system. Many believe these decisions should be left up to the individual districts.
Fayette Local Schools Superintendent Erik Belcher believes this is a constant problem that caps the quality the school system can provide.
“It seems all about which party can make the most laws; we miss the important reasons for making laws,” he said.
Belcher went on to say that his district would most certainly opt out of starting the year later, as long as the bill continues to provide for that option.
Even though Sen. Patton claims he “gutted common core” to help give rights back to schools, he thinks some power needs to remain in the hands of the legislature.
“They want us to just sit back and give them money and not have any involvement at all. I think that’s absurd,” Patton said, referring to the superintendents’ resistance.
Senator Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green), who represents much of Fulton County doesn’t foresee the bill going anywhere this year.
“This bill is very unlikely to be considered by the Senate this year. Next year I will sit down with local educators, teachers and parents to discuss any potential changes to Ohio’s school calendar law,” he said.
As for Sen. Hite, he plans to vote the bill down if the time comes.
“I’m with (the schools) on this one. Northwest Ohio does not want this bill. Overwhelmingly,” he said.
Patton pointed out the bill is in its preliminary stages, and may not see a floor vote before the end of the year. Whatever the outcome, local school officials will not be all too surprised.
As Superintendent Schlade said, “As usual, the politicians will do their thing, and the local boards, and the administration and teachers, students, and parents will adjust to fit what those politicians believe to be their panacea; their utopia of how things should be.”
Reach Cory Johnson at [email protected]