This weekend marks summer’s unofficial end — maybe one last trip to the beach, lake or mountains before our schedules fill again with sports and school-related activities. That’s why it’s so jarring to see some teachers and students back in the swing of things, already taking the plastic off their new folders and uncapping their glue sticks to start a new year.
An informal survey of school calendars across the North Shore and Merrimack Valley shows a near-even divide of districts going back to class after Labor Day versus those already underway. For most communities, the decision of when to start seems to be about building in more time and flexibility to the calendar, as balanced against the nostalgic lure of summer traditions.
Gov. Chris Sununu is firmly in the old-school camp. He got behind a “Save Our Summers” effort to urge New Hampshire communities to hold off starting school until after Labor Day, arguing that tourism, a pillar of the state’s economy, depends not just on teenage workers but traveling families. Sununu asked a commission to study delaying the school calendar so as not to interfere with the schedules of young workers. It found the economic benefit of a later start to be worth $24 million to $34 million.
Even so, 4 in 5 New Hampshire districts still start the year before Labor Day, according to The Associated Press.
On the other side of the border, pressure is applied in the other direction, and it isn’t about summer or tourism so much as snow. Schools are mandated to operate 180 days per year in Massachusetts, and ones that burn through all of their snow days — usually five are set aside — must add back time for any extra that are needed.
The state education commissioner can waive that requirement, but guidelines posted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education strongly “recommend” districts begin their calendars before Labor Day. In other words, the rare waiver probably won’t go to a community that waits to start school after Labor Day.
Nine months from now, maybe students and teachers will be thinking back to these warm days of late August when they started class early. It could be the price they paid to ensure something far more important than the start of school — which is when it ends.