Debate on school start date

NASHUA – In New Hampshire, 84 percent of school districts start before Labor Day, but this may change in the coming years, thanks to Gov. Chris Sununu’s Save our Summers Study Commission.

“Restoring a few days in August and beginning school after the traditional end-of-summer holiday would spark economic activity, increase revenues, and bring relief to tourism-dependent businesses and attractions. Importantly, it would also provide students with additional income, work experience, and learning opportunities outside the traditional classroom setting,” Commission Chair Jamie Burnett this week with the release of the commission’s report.

Strong opposition is mounting to any plan that would require such a change, however.

“If we were to delay our school start date, it just adds to June,” Nashua Board of Education member Heather Raymond said. “And given how hot it is in June here, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to keep kids in hot classrooms any longer.”

“I think that we are making good decisions based on our students’ educational needs. Some also forget that we will have a long weekend for Labor Day weekend. Our students have the Friday before Labor Day and Labor Day off, so people who want to take a vacation are still able to do so,” Raymond said in addressing the argument that tourism destinations lose out when students go back before Labor Day.

Merrimack School Board Chair Shannon Barnes said her district already starts school after Labor Day, but said this is only because it works for the district.

“Let us make us the decisions for what’s best for our kids locally,” she said.

Barnes said Merrimack arranges the schedule so that teacher professional development days fall before the first day of school. The students don’t have those random few days off throughout the year, meaning the students finish school around the same time those in surrounding communities.

Barnes emphasized this may not work for other school districts. If her district did not have those earlier professional development days, she would not be in favor of starting after Labor Day.

Multiple statewide organizations are also opposed to the change. The American Federation of Teachers cites these reasons for opposition:

 loss of local control;

 a later end date to the school year; and

 forcing renegotiation of teacher contracts due to changing dates.

The National Education Association opposes a statewide requirement as well, on the grounds that a later start date could “adversely impact student achievement, or exacerbate issues of food security.”

Various employer, business and economic affairs, agriculture and athletic representatives are in favor of having a statewide starting date after Labor Day, the report states.

Employers said businesses that rely heavily on tourism are affected by early start dates as their clientele declines, and they also deal with layoffs or they risk not having enough staff once younger staff head back to school. On the agricultural end, representatives said many students, parents and teachers are employed at local farms. Labor Day is the busiest weekend for farms throughout the state, the representatives added.

In the report, it was pointed out by the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA) that a potential benefit to starting school after Labor Day would be the ability for athletic departments to schedule any distant away games during the last week of August. They said this would benefit rural New Hampshire towns where schools have to travel an hour to two hours to get to another school for a game.

As of now, schools will continue to start based on local decisions.

Grace Pecci can be reached at 594-1234, or at gpecci@nashuatelegraph.com.