Bill delays school start

Each year, it seems the beginning of school comes just a little sooner.

For most Hoosier students in K-12, classes begin in early to mid August with the hopes of being done by the end of May. Snow makeup days, however, have pushed the end of the year for some school corporations into June in recent years.

A couple of lawmakers now want to delay the start of school until after Labor Day. District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, has co-authored a bill (HB 1363) with District 84 Rep. Robert Morris, R-Fort Wayne, changing the required school calendar from 185 instructional days to 175.

The first day of school would be on the Tuesday after Labor Day in September, and the last day would be on the Friday before Memorial Day in May.

If the bill is passed and signed into law, the changes would take effect beginning with the 2017-18 school year.

The bill could reduce school expenditures and result in some utility cost savings, according to a fiscal impact statement from the state Legislative Services Agency. But it’s not expected to have much financial impact.

Although some educators and parents support the later start day, others say it won’t work logistically because of the need for snow makeup days, vacations and testing throughout the year.

Greg Walker, superintendent of Brownstown Central Community School Corp., said he is not in favor of reducing the number of instructional days.

“To meet the requirement of instructional days, pushing the start of school until after Labor Day, would either shorten fall, Christmas and spring breaks or push the end of school into June,” he said.

He would like to see lawmakers stay out of the debate and let school boards determine what type of calendar best suits the needs of their communities in meeting the 180-day requirement.

Seymour teacher Angie Engle said the bill is a “horrible” idea. She would prefer to see schools adopt a “balanced” calendar.

A balanced calendar reduces the summer break and spreads those days throughout the school year, producing longer fall and spring breaks.

“So much research has shown that a balanced calendar is much more beneficial for students,” Engle said. “I get that there is much hesitation in our community for that, but this new proposed bill certainly seems to be moving in the opposite direction.”

Delaying the start of school to after Labor Day sounds like a good move to parent Tara Overbay-Johnson.

“This certainly helps the family to plan, is closer aligned to most college schedules and gives the kids a true summer break,” she said.

But she’s not sure how the change could be implemented without doing away with some teacher in-service dates and holidays.

Lucas said he supports the bill because of its timing and because it’s something parents want.

“I’ve received a lot of feedback from parents and even teachers that there is too little of summertime for kids,” he said. “I got on board with this bill because I thought it would help kick start a good discussion, given all of the talk we’re having on education right now.”

Lucas said he believes ISTEP+ testing is on its way out, which could free up some time during the school year to make the later start date possible.

“With the pause and probable dropping of ISTEP, I figured now is the time to throw this out there,” he said.

Lucas’ opponent, Nance Franke, R-Seymour, who will challenge him for the District 69 seat in the May 3 primary election, disagrees and said the decision to change the calendar should be left to local school districts.

Franke is a Lutheran schoolteacher in Bartholomew County and a member of the Seymour Community Schools board of trustees.

She said the bill is being pushed through without enough research or thought given to individual school corporations.

“I am sure there were good intentions behind it, but the bill is not a good policy,” she said. “First, this bill absolutely goes against the requests from school corporations throughout the state to give back local school board control.”

Franke said she is surprised by Lucas’ support of the bill because it gives the state more control over schools.

“It certainly goes against the premise of pushing for less government involvement in schools,” she said.

By lessening the number of required instructional days to 175, Franke said the school day likely would have to be longer.

She believes the state needs to consider looking at hours of education versus required days.

“Some corporations feel even 180 days are not enough to meet instructional requirements,” she said. “I want to put forth consideration of requiring 1,080 hours of instructional time instead of 180 days.”

By going to required hours instead of days, Franke said school corporations will have the time needed to meet instructional requirements but also will have flexibility in creating a calendar that best suits the district.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.