Migration — School Daze

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I applaud State Sen. Thomas Gaffey’s proposal to mandate that Connecticut’s public schools open after Labor Day. His reasons are sound: Children benefit more from staying home or vacationing with their families until the beginning of September than they do with struggling for two or three days before another three-day break. He called the current arrangement “an inexplicable hodgepodge” because most schools don’t open on the same day, as every one of the 154 districts sets its own schedule. Elsewhere Gaffey pointed out that most of the schools in Connecticut lack air conditioning, and the hot, humid weather that rules at this time of year is not conducive to learning. Plus bus companies and other businesses that contract with the school districts have to adjust to schedules that are staggered town by town.
From my point of view, parents or guardians would benefit from the later start time, as they give up the summer schedule for three or four days and then break again for a three-day weekend. A post-Labor Day opening would also boost the economy as business owners and others along the shoreline who make their money from summer vacationers (as my family did for years) would have an additional week of the summer trade. The only personal downside for a post-Labor Day opening is that I’ll have to wait a few extra days to pay a visit to the much quieter Shoreline. This is a sacrifice I am more than willing to make!
There are arguments in support of the status quo: Since Connecticut towns and boards of education are maniacs for local control, there’s a good chance that the proposal won’t go anywhere, so Gaffey’s effort may be an exercise in futility as it was last year. And the lack of air-conditioned schools was more of a problem in June than it has been in August since we’ve now got nighttime temps in the 40s and 50s and had a brutal heat wave in June. Winter weather may dictate August openings, too. Since school districts have become lawsuit shy and many students travel farther to reach magnet schools outside their hometowns, most districts have many more snow days. The closings of course push the end of school further into June, and no one wants to be in school up to July 4.
Gaffey, however, has history on his side. The early openings are a fairly recent phenomenon. The testing craze apparently drove the change to the current arrangement. Before 1986. all public schools opened after Labor Day. That year and for several years afterward students took the Connecticut Mastery Test during the first two weeks in September, hence the urge to begin test prep as early as possible. But three years ago the state began administering the test in March. Since the primary motivation behind the early opening is gone, it should be time for a change.
It sure would be nice to have everyone return at the same time, after Labor Day.

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