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Educators question Sununu’s post-Labor Day school start date proposal

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu makes a speech at a foreign relations luncheon Monday, March 20, 2017, in Montreal. Canadian Press via AP file



Monitor staff
Sunday, September 02, 2018

If Gov. Chris Sununu wants to push back the start of school until after Labor Day, he might be in for a fight: Educators say his plan sounds great for tourism but questionable for kids.

“The arguments that I’m hearing and the angst I’m hearing is that it’s not for the right reasons,” said Megan Tuttle, president of NEA New Hampshire, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

Each school district in the state typically sets its own school calendar, and most send students back to hit the books before the start of September. Of the 180 public school districts in New Hampshire, 146 chose to start before Labor Day this year and 34 will start after – more than a 4-to-1 ratio – according to the state Department of Education.

“If the governor wants to start after Labor Day because educationally it makes sense, that’s one thing,” Tuttle said. “But we shouldn’t be basing decisions about our children’s education on tourism.”

Many educators said they choose to bring kids back to school in August so they can have more time with them when they’re fresh and ready to learn, as opposed to keeping them in their seats in June when they’re more focused on summer vacation.

“In my district, we don’t like to go late into June,” said Dean Cascadden, superintendent of Bow School District. “We think the kids are ready to start at the end of August.”

Concord, like Bow, started on Aug. 29 this year.

“Sometimes, you get to the end of June and people are really wiped out by then,” Concord School Superintendent Terri Forsten said.

David Smith, head of school at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy, which was back in session Aug. 20 – one of the earliest dates in the state – said he likes to start earlier so students can finish midterm exams before the December holiday break.

“The feedback we get from our people is that it’s a good system – and it’s working the way it is,” Smith said.

Sununu and other proponents of later start dates argue that a few more days of summer will increase tourism revenue and the opportunity for families to take August vacations. They also argue it could mean more internship and job opportunities for high school students.

But not everyone is convinced.

“If this was based on tourism, the Seacoast should have time off into the fall, the western part of the state for leaf peeping should have October, and the North Country should have the winter for skiing,” Tuttle said. “I haven’t really heard from the governor a comprehensive plan.”

The New Hampshire study commission has until Nov. 30 to examine the impact of a post-Labor Day start in nearly a dozen areas, including tourism, academic performance, school athletic programs and tax revenue. Tuttle said she had not received an invitation from the governor to join the commission.

“If you can show me research that this is the best thing for children in New Hampshire to start after Labor Day, I’m more than willing to listen,” she said. “I’m just not convinced of that at this point.”

Daniel LeGallo, superintendent of Franklin, said his district chose to move its start date after Labor Day for the first time this year because of how early the holiday fell in September. He said he figured it would be a good experiment year to see how families and teachers adjusted.

“When Labor Day is later in September, its not as quite as simple,” LeGallo said.

Laconia Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said having a standard school calendar would help with the running of Laconia’s Huot Technical Center, which serves six different districts with technical career training and education.

“I understand local control, and in many areas I’m a big proponent of it, but it would almost be helpful in some regards if everyone starts on this particular day and everyone ends on this particular day,” he said.

Cascadden said his biggest concern with moving the start date of school after Labor Day was fitting the required educational days in.

“I’d love to wave a magic wand, and have all of the vacation days and holidays we want, start later in the year and still get out earlier in June,” Cascadden said. “But the reality is, you’ve got 180 days to fit in, and you’ve got to jam them in some place.”

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)