Educators favor longer school year

ESCANABA — Going into summer after completing another school year can be an exciting time for a student. But long gone are the days of having three full months off for summer vacation.

School districts in the area finish their school years within the first few weeks of June now. The longer school year didn’t happen over night — it changed over time.

Section 380.1284b of the Michigan Revised School Code, Act 451 of 1976, states school districts are not to be in session before Labor Day. This mandate ties to tourism and is one reason the school year goes into June, according to local school superintendents. There is a waiver school officials can apply for to start classes before Labor Day, but the majority of school districts stay with the status quo.

“I feel getting students in the building in August would help them and reduce the amount of re-teaching that needs to happen currently,” said Mid Peninsula Superintendent Eric VanDamme.

VanDamme would like to see the school year balanced through the whole year.

“We could have more scheduled breaks during the year and come back to school in early to mid-August, like the majority of the states in the country,” said VanDamme.

The thought of students forgetting what they learned from the previous school year during the summer has kept the idea of school going year-round viable. Superintendents have different thoughts about what happens to students during summer vacation. Escanaba Superintendent Coby Fletcher calls it ‘summer slide.’ Bark River-Harris Superintendent Jason Lockwood calls it ‘summer learning loss’ and agrees it is a big concern for educators when they return at the beginning of the school year. Lockwood also understands the other side of the coin and believes summer vacation is very important to youth development.

“Children are given time to enjoy family vacations, get summer jobs, and learn many valuable lessons that can not be taught during a traditional school setting. This is a time when kids can be kids and is a very important time for growth and maturity,” said Lockwood.

According to Lockwood, the state mandate doesn’t allow much flexibility within the school calendar.

The state of Michigan mandated in 2010 schools were to provide students 1,098 hours of instruction. In the 2014-2015 school year schools were told to incorporate 175 instructional days into their calendar at a minimum. The state then added five days to the requirement in the 2016-2017 school year, to 180 days a year.

“I don’t personally mind that the state increased the number of days of instruction,” said Fletcher. “But it is a little odd that they kept the required number of hours of instruction the same.”

The state of Michigan does not mandate how many hours per day a student receives instructional time.

Each school year, a calendar is created and approved by the school board of each school district before the school year begins. Holidays, testing, breaks and teacher professional development training are all dates that help create the school calendar. In Section 380.1284a of the Michigan Revised School Code, Act 451 of 1976, it states the common school calendar is created by an Intermediate School District (ISD) in cooperation with district superintendents who are involved with the ISD. The common school calendar is posted on the ISD’s website and identifies the dates for each school year when school will not be in session for winter and spring breaks. Schools not involved with an ISD, or are private or charter schools need not follow the same calendar.

“The dates for winter break and spring break are set by the superintendents. We establish those dates during our monthly superintendent roundtable meetings,” said Delta Schoolcraft ISD Superintendent Doug Leisenring. “We are required by the Michigan School Code to set the dates for five years in advance.”

Superintendents will decide the calendar for the 2023-2024 school year at the next meeting July 1.

Another reason a school may be in session late into June is weather. During the 2018-2019 school year, the National Weather Service issued several winter weather warnings. Beginning Jan. 29, schools in the area had more instructional days off because of an arctic air mass that brought wind chills to the area as low as 50 degrees below zero. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proclaimed a state of emergency with executive order 2019-1 because of the weather and terminated the state of emergency Feb. 2.

School administrators were unsure if days off during that time were going to be forgiven. In early spring, Whitmer did relieve schools of making up instructional days off between Jan. 29 and Feb. 2.

Whether you’re for a year-round calendar or not, the excitement of starting the first day of summer vacation still starts the day after the last day of a completed grade after a full school year.