Sununu’s idea to start school after Labor Day gets warm welcome

Monitor staff
Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Rundlett Middle School girls’ soccer team wouldn’t mind in the least if summer vacation lasted through Labor Day.

“It’s a good idea,” said Mikala Walker, 12, of Concord. “I like it.”

The team agreed unanimously at practice Tuesday.

Jaylyn Jefferson, also 12, said that the current system in the Concord district – having only one or two days of school before a multi-day break – doesn’t make much sense to her.

“It can be confusing to start everything up and then leave again right away,” Jaylyn said.

The question of when schools should open after summer vacation has been circulating in the wake of Gov. Chris Sununu’s comments that he is considering a proposal to require school districts to start classes after Labor Day.

Right now, New Hampshire school districts are responsible for creating their own calendars based loosely on suggestions they receive from the Department of Education every year, which do not include recommendations for start or end dates.

Some schools choose to open earlier, such as Coe-Brown Northwood Academy, which this year opened its doors to students on Aug. 21. Some choose to start later, like Manchester, which opened after the holiday on Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Start dates are mostly decided by collective bargaining agreements within the districts between teachers and school boards. Many have policies that dictate the earliest day a school can open for the year. In Bow, for example, that date is no more than five days before the holiday. Bow schools opened Aug. 30 this year.

Over the weekend, Sununu told the Union Leader he’s quietly been having talks with parents, educators, students and administrators about requiring school to start after Labor Day.

“Every person I have talked to thinks this is a home run of an idea,” he said.

Bow Superintendent Dr. Dean Cascadden said in the wake of this kind of legislation, it might be difficult to navigate scheduling requirements and traditions in each region. For example, imposing a start date on districts would affect teacher workshop scheduling and vacation time. Cascadden pointed to Columbus Day – a holiday that many districts don’t observe – but Bow traditionally gives students the day off. He said families have learned to count on that and built their schedules around it.

Additionally, Cascadden said that having the state dictate when the school year starts in many ways “goes against our general nature as people of New Hampshire,” who tend to honor local control rather than state intervention.

Locally, parents are intrigued by the idea.

Jason Crossman, 39, of Loudon has a 12-year-old son, Jacob, in the Merrimack Valley School District. Crossman said he would welcome the start of school getting pushed back until after Labor Day. He said schools should either do that or start earlier in the summer – to him, it seems a bit pointless to put kids back in school for a couple of days just to pull them out again for almost a week around Labor Day.

“Those two days they get in before the break right now, they’re not getting much out of,” Crossman said.

Many parents have also noted this change would give families a chance to take last-minute summer vacations. Sununu suggested the change would also be beneficial for the New Hampshire tourism industry, which is driven by seasonal workers – many of whom are students. A later start date would enable students to work later, and help with the Labor Day rush.

Sarah Lester, 46, of Andover, a mother of two 16-year-old boys, isn’t sold on the idea of later start dates. She said schools should actually begin earlier than they have been. She said she worries about the age group that is too old for day care but too young to work that is often left unsupervised during the last weeks of August.

“Those last few weeks, it can be very tough for working parents,” Lester said. “By that time, camps are over, summer activities are winding down. It’s hard to find child care.”

As a result, Lester said, “supervision for kids is lacking, and it puts some kids’ safety in jeopardy.”

Barrett Christina, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, said that although mandating schools start after the holiday hasn’t yet been discussed formally at a state level, he is open to considering it. Christina said the change would be possible, but it would take some “creative finagling” from education officials.

“It could certainly be done,” Christina said. “The question is whether it would be prudent or plausible for the state to dictate what the local school districts should set in terms of their individualized schedules.”