NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Early school start dates have advantages, but just feel wrong

Who among us hasn’t complained about how short summers have become because of the early return to school? Whatever happened to starting school on the day after Labor Day? That would be Sept. 4 this year.

But East Allen County Schools starts Monday. Fort Wayne Community Schools begins Tuesday, Aug. 14. Southwest Allen and Northwest Allen both start Aug. 15. If you think that’s early, Perry Township Schools in Indianapolis started July 25 and Beech Grove city schools and Clark Pleasant Community Schools began July 26. Anderson and Noblesville are among seven Indiana school districts that started Aug. 1. Indianapolis Public Schools opened Monday.

There is no one particular day on which all school districts begin. That is determined primarily by the individual districts. And we think that’s how it should be.

By the middle 1990s, school districts across the country began to move up their starting dates into August, although there are still many that begin on the day after Labor Day. The shortening of summer with such early start dates is a matter of controversy, but there are valid reasons for schools to start as early as they do.

A 2015 CNN report suggested one of the main factors in favor of an earlier start date is that it gives teachers more instructional time before statewide assessment tests in the spring.

Other reasons offered by educational experts in the CNN report: Beginning in August allows students to complete the first semester before the December holiday break, rather than taking tests and turning in big projects after two weeks off; starting early allows for a fall break (only NACS has one in Allen County), which results in happier teachers and students who behave better when they have more breaks; when beginning school after Labor Day and ending in June, that last month is simply not taken as seriously; ending school around Memorial Day creates fewer conflicts for graduating students and staff who take summer courses at colleges and universities.

A bill to prevent Indiana schools from opening sooner than the third Monday in August died in last year’s legislative session in a tie vote. This year, Sens. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn and Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, introduced Senate Bill 7 to make sure the first day of school couldn’t be before the last Monday in August beginning with the 2019-20 school year. The bill, which failed to get a hearing in this year’s session, was reportedly proposed so students who are involved in the Indiana State Fair could still show their exhibits without missing school. This year’s Indiana State Fair runs from Aug. 3-19.

Leising told the Indianapolis Star the early-August schedule cuts down on summer job opportunities for students and teachers and hurts tourism.

Alas, as Amy Sue Nathan wrote for online magazine Imperfect Parent, “Now, Labor Day is a three-day weekend complete with homework. End of summer as an event is gone – the last hurrah – the final friendly barbecue with friends and family all just fade away like a summer romance … even when it’s still light out at 8 p.m.”