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Law poses changes for school schedules, summer tourism in 2020

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In July 2019, Gov. Mike Parson approved a bill that shifted summer vacation windows for Missouri students with the goal of improving statewide tourism trends.

Formerly known as House Bill 161 [HB 161], the newly passed legislation states that the first day of classes for local school districts can be scheduled no earlier than 14 days before the first Monday in September. This means, for the 2020-2021 school year, traditional school districts would be barred from starting before Aug. 24. Charter schools or other private institutions are not impacted by the change.

Many school districts have already planned and approved new school schedules to comply with the new law.

The Fort Zumwalt School District recently approved its updated school calendar through collaborative efforts between the district’s Board of Education and the Fort Zumwalt Education Association to create an agreed-upon calendar for the 2020-2021 school year. 

The district will also begin the year on Aug. 24 – the earliest date allowed by HB 161 –in 2020.  Winter break will span from Dec. 22 to Jan. 5, 2021. Students will depart for summer break on June 1, 2021. In the 2019-2020 school year, summer vacation began May 26.

“We’ve usually been able to finish maybe a week or even a week and a half earlier than that [June date], but since the new [2020-2021] start date is so late, it pushes everything else later as well,” Superintendent Dr. Bernie DuBray said.

According to DuBray, students in the Fort Zumwalt School District will be able to take finals before Christmas break, but at the cost of eight days during the new fall semester.

“Our calendar will be unbalanced,” DuBray said. “The first semester will be about eight days shorter than our second semester, so [teachers] will have to adjust their teaching during the semester to make sure the curriculum…can be done. It’s not so many days that it’s impossible, but we’re still finishing our first semester by the time Christmas Break starts.”

The Francis Howell School District, which previously opted for an Aug. 10 start date for the 2020-2021 school year, created a survey of a newly designed draft calendar for community members to provide input on in October. Following the review process, the proposed calendar was then reviewed at the Nov. 21 Board of Education work session.

Currently, the draft calendar also has the school year’s start date as Aug. 24.

According to Lisa Simpkins, co-chair for the Francis Howell calendar committee, one of the highest priorities among parents and students was keeping the weeklong fall break at the end of October. However, due to the loss of 10 days at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year to keep that fall break, finals would be taken after students come back from Christmas break. Following a week of review, finals would be taken between Jan. 13-15.

“Really, the week including that week of fall break at Francis Howell really did help push that back a little bit, so they’ll come back on Jan. 5 and they won’t take finals until the 14th or 15th,” Lisa Simpkins, co-chair of the Francis Howell calendar committee, said.

The last day of school is tentatively scheduled for May 28, 2021. 

The district’s Board of Education is set to vote on the draft calendar at its next meeting on Dec. 19.

Mid Rivers Newsmagazine reporter and Fort Zumwalt School District parent DeAnne LeBlanc reported that reception of the bill by parents and teachers has been positive. 

“My husband and I both work from home, so we are definitely more flexible as far as our girls’ school schedules go,” LeBlanc said. “I think the only negative is that some families may have strict work schedules and it may disrupt vacation or daycare schedules, but in my opinion, 14 days or less isn’t a huge deal and should be workable…”

As far as changing the summer tourism window from Labor Day to Memorial Day, multiple community organizations are already planning how to handle the potential increase in visitors.

Phil Boettge, recreation superintendent at the St. Peters Rec-Plex, said one of the biggest concerns is waiting for finalized school schedules and dates while simultaneously creating programming for the newly scheduled summer break weeks from the late start.

According to Boettge, the shifted summer schedule could also potentially pose staffing concerns, especially when it comes to retaining college-age, part-time employees.

“The challenge on our side right now is seeing if we’re going to have staff around for that, not knowing how the colleges are going to adjust,” Boettge said. “If they’re out-of-state colleges, we typically lose a lot of our college folks the first weekend in August. We’re talking about running programs potentially another three weeks and not having staff members that would usually be there for all that.”

The Missouri State Teachers Association [MSTA], a state teachers association that serves more than 46,000 educators, opposed the legislation on the grounds that local districts should have the ability to create calendars based on each community’s needs.

“We have long supported local districts having the ability to approve their own calendars. We think that it’s important to consider the local impact of the school calendar, and the certain local events that either a community supports or things that are important locally,” Matt Michelson, MSTA government relations manager, said.

Simpkins agreed.

“What I heard in our surveys and what I hear from some of our community members, is that they would prefer to have that local control,” Simpkins said. “We worked hard to create a calendar that seemed to work really well for our community and for our district. “To have other parameters placed on us is a little bit of a struggle. Every community is just a little bit different.” 

Previously, schools also could start earlier after public notice, open meetings and passage by the school board. 

That alternative is not an option under the new law.

“We’ve had a lot of changes to school calendars over the last two to three years,” Michelson said. “School districts are still going to be able to negotiate their calendars. They’re just going to be in a tighter box now.”

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