Early School Starts Wouldn't be as Common With Proposed Rule Change

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

Students and parents pack the halls during registration for the upcoming school year at College Community Schools. (KCRG/THE GAZETTE)

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By Dave Franzman

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Starting school classes much before the first week in September would become more difficult under proposed Iowa Department of Education rules.

Currently, state law requires districts to start school no sooner than the first week of September. But most school districts, 341 out of 348, seek easily-obtained waivers that allow an earlier start date. The earliest in Iowa last year was Davenport. The district there started classes August 13th. The State Board of Education will meet Thursday and hear a report about restricting those early starts, in part, as a way to boost more tourism in Iowa.

Districts offer various explanations for seeking the standard waiver to start classes early. Most point to finishing a winter term before the holidays or making sure students get out in early June—closer to a schedule followed by colleges. But superintendents vow to fight any restrictive changes arguing the start date for schools is a local issue and something that should be decided by local school boards and not state regulators.

That was definitely the feeling of John Speer, superintendent of College Community Schools in Cedar Rapids. Hallways at that district were full of both students and parents on the first day of fall registration Wednesday.

Speer said College Community begins classes on August 21st—a date that’s about in the middle of the pack for districts.

“We try to pick a start date late enough families can get in activities and vacations but one that gets us out of school early enough that you don’t get into the second week of June. It’s hard to motivate students once you get past that June barrier, “ Speer said.

Under the Department of Education proposal, prompted by a petition from tourism business interests, districts could still get a waiver to start seven days before the official date with a slightly more restrictive waiver process. That would have put the earliest start date this year at August 26th. However, districts that wanted to start any earlier would have to submit tests scores, financial data or other proof that an even earlier school start was necessary for that district.

While many school districts favor the current local control policy, some parents and students wouldn’t mind a later start. Lisbon and Mt. Vernon students share one of the earliest start dates in Iowa this year—August 14th.

One Mt. Vernon parent, LeAnn Briesemeister, would opt for a later date if it were her choice.

“My kids would prefer a later start. I don’t know that they know the difference because they’re so young. But I just know they’re not done going to the swimming pool yet,” Briesemeister said.

Incoming Mt. Vernon senior Macon McInnis, a guard at the Mt. Vernon pool, said he agrees a later start would be better.

“I’d rather have summer start later because as the school date gets pushed back, you can work more hours,” he said.

The Mt. Vernon pool is a small example of the early start date impact in Iowa. Shorter pool hours begin when the kids go back to class and that will happen this year before August is half over.

The proposed school start date changes, if adopted, wouldn’t begin before the 2014-15 school year. The Department of Education meeting in Des Moines Thursday will be only the first step with more meetings to follow to decide whether or not to more closely regulate the early school starts in Iowa.

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