For years, schools have been moving to start the year in late or mid-August rather than just after Labor Day, when it is typically cooler. Part of the reason is that schools need more training days for standardized testing and new academic standards. Holiday breaks have also grown longer, and administrators say the only direction they can go is back into August.
In Chicago, starting a week earlier is part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s strategy to improve education in the nation’s third-largest school district by getting students in school longer. Air conditioning isn’t part of that plan.
“I was speaking with teachers yesterday and they said there were students who had to leave early, students with bloody noses, students (who) had fainting spells or fell asleep in the classroom,” said Chicago state Rep. La Shawn Ford, who received a number of complaints after the start of school. “It’s just not a learning environment.”
Some studies have also shown that students in classrooms with air conditioning do better on achievement tests than those in classroom that don’t. Vic Zimmerman, the school superintendent in the central Illinois community of Monticello, said there is simply no point in keeping kids in class. Some of his district’s students were given Popsicles just to get them through morning reading time.
“They become a little bit lethargic,” he said.
Parents are beginning to push back. Sioux City, Iowa, schools decided to move the start of school a week later next year after getting an earful, school board president Mike Krysl said. And a parent group in North Dakota is looking to launch a ballot measure requiring schools to start after Labor Day, said Jeff Schatz, the Fargo school superintendent.
Those measures haven’t always been successful elsewhere.
In Iowa, lawmakers enacted legislation that requires school districts wait until September to open. But the law allows districts to obtain a waiver to start early, and all but 10 of the state’s 346 school districts did just that. Indiana lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully for years to push the start of the school year back to after Labor Day, but have run into resistance from schools who have scheduling concerns and local officials who think the state shouldn’t control the school calendar.