back to school

West Park Place Elementary paraprofessional Anna Maria DiNatale greets students on the first day of school in 2018.

After starting school after Labor Day for the first time in recent memory this past fall, Christina School District students will return to an August start date.

The first day of school is set for Aug. 31, 2020, and the last day is set for June 10, 2021, barring any snow days.

Whether to start before or after Labor Day has long been a hot topic in Christina as well as other districts. Many parents remember the post-Labor Day starts of their youth, but many districts moved the start date earlier in order to allow for more instructional time before statewide assessments, among other reasons.

In 2018, Christina surveyed parents about the start date, and 65 percent favored starting after Labor Day. However, the school board stuck with an August start date anyway.

In 2019, a survey once again showed support for a later start, and the school board acquiesced. Students started class Sept. 3 and will end June 15, unless there are snow make-up days added to the end of the year.

“This board felt significant pressure to align with neighboring districts and a post-Labor Day start,” school board member Elizabeth Paige said. “Parents who went through the school district remember, much as I do, that we started school after Labor Day.”

After that one-year experiment, however, the school board has decided to go back to a pre-Labor Day start.

Labor Day is late this year – Sept. 7 – meaning there would be fewer instructional days prior to Sept. 30, the deadline for enrollment verification that determines funding levels, Superintendent Richard Gregg said.

“I think we need to focus on student needs. Last year, we took a great deal of focus in terms of the interests of adults,” board member George Evans said, adding that a later end date could put students at a disadvantage for summer programs or employment opportunities.

Paige also voiced concerns about a later end date.

“The complaints I’ve heard this year is ‘my kids are in school in the middle of June,’” she said, adding that could creep even later in the case of snow days. “We could have students in school until almost July potentially, and that’s as frustrating for parents as a pre-Labor Day start.”

The board voted 6-1 to start classes before Labor Day. Fred Polaski cast the lone opposing vote, saying he would like the district’s calendar committee to weigh in before making a decision.

However, the board’s vote could be moot if a bill working its way through the state legislature is passed.

SB 204 would mandate that schools start after Labor Day – effective this fall – citing studies that show an economic benefit. A later start allows families to squeeze in a final vacation during the long weekend and benefits resort towns that rely on high school students as part of their seasonal workforce.

The bill is sponsored by State Sen. Gerald Hocker, who represents several Sussex County beach towns that would stand to benefit from the law. Hocker proposed the same law in 2017, but it never got out of committee.

Maryland has been debating a similar law since 2016, when Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order requiring all school districts to start after Labor Day and end before June 15, citing similar economic factors. The move was largely popular with families, but drew strong criticism from school districts who argued that it should be a local decision.

Last year, the Maryland legislature passed a law returning the decision-making power to local authorities and overrode Hogan’s veto of the bill. Hogan is now trying to gain support for a bill that would once again mandate a post-Labor Day start.

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