Local school systems oppose statewide calendar

Published 9:13 pm Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Although no bill yet been filed, a state-imposed extended summer break for public schools is already facing opposition from many Alabama school systems.

“I think most of the education community is opposed to any bill that would take local control away from the boards in setting their calendars,” said Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent of Pike County Schools. “My understanding is that the proposal would require schools to start no earlier than Labor Day and end before Memorial Day. Essentially, school boards would be faced with two options: either cut instructional hours under the 1,080 hours currently required, or come up with a calendar that keeps those 1,080 hours inside that window.”

The Alabama Association of School Boards is one of the groups that has raised the issue to school systems.

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“We’re hearing the tourism and summer camp industries are going to push hard and soon this legislative session for a longer summer by requiring the school year start after Labor Day and end before Memorial Day,” the organization’s website states. “Apparently, legislators are warming up to the idea of passing a mandated calendar bill early in the session. These efforts remove the authority to set school calendar dates from where it rightfully belongs – with local school boards. AASB strongly opposes proposed legislative mandates that strip away decision-making power from local school boards.”

Bazzell and the Pike County Board of Education passed a resolution on Monday night formally opposing a legislative mandate over school boards’ calendars.

Cynthia Thomas, who was named interim superintendent of Troy City Schools on Tuesday, said she has heard about the bill but is not very familiar with it yet.

However, she did speak to the need for the local board to control its calendar.

“Each local board and community has different requirements and activities going on at certain times,” Thomas said. “I think this would be detrimental to have the state dictate our calendar. Each local board knows the needs of their students as well as when they need that. It could also interfere with statewide testing. The calendar should be a decision by the local board as long as it is fulfilling the required days.”

Bazzell said there are two options that school boards could take to preserve the 1,080 instructional hours within the proposed window.

“One way is to have a longer school day, much like a calendar proposed by Huntsville as a sample of what it might look like; school would start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 4:30 p.m.,” Bazzell said. “The other way would be to reduce the number of holidays that happen during the school year. Some highlights from a sample calendar of what that would look like is the elimination of fall and spring breaks and holidays including Veterans Day, Columbus Day, Presidents Day, Good Friday and King-Lee Day. There would be two days off for Thanksgiving, four days off four Christmas and New Year’s Day off. That’s how drastic that would be.”

With Alabama ranked at or near the bottom in many educational categories, Bazzell said this proposal is particularly unexpected.

“It’s simply the wrong thing to do right now,” Bazzell said. “It would actually allow one thing – it would allow us to be 50th in something else, I guess; 50th in the nation as the only state to require less than 1,080 instructional hours.”