It is Michigan law to start school after Labor Day. So why do most start earlier?

A 16-year-old state law requires all public schools in Michigan to start after Labor Day, but only a quarter of districts in the state plan to kick off their school year on Tuesday, Sept. 6 this year.

Of Michigan’s 517 K-12 public districts, 388, or 75%, have chosen to start classes before Labor Day, an MLive review of each district’s 2022-23 schedule found. That leaves only 127 school districts past the state-mandated start date. This total excludes charter academies and some small one-room schools and K-8 buildings.

Although Michigan has required a return to school after Labor Day since the 2005 law was passed in a nod to the state’s summer tourism industry, individual schools, districts and Representative middle school districts can receive waivers from the Michigan Department of Education allowing them to circumvent the law. and start the school year earlier.

The number of schools eligible for early start waivers has continued to grow in recent years, with Michigan’s 56 countywide or multi-county middle school districts eligible to apply for three-year districtwide waivers. on behalf of their constituent districts.

The number of ISDs approved for waivers rose from 29 in 2019-21 to 49 approved for 2022-24, according to the MDE. During the same period, the number of waiver charter school academies also increased from 64 to 94.

With waivers available to all public schools and academies, Michigan schools have found it best to start a week before the Labor Day holiday, with 35% of districts starting this school year on Aug. 29. Those using the waivers say the earlier start date allows them to complete their state-mandated 180 days of instruction and finish the year earlier, while others say students are already participating in school-related activities such as sports and music in August.

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While a good number of school districts in communities with roots in tourism and access to the Great Lakes have stuck with starting after Labor Day, most districts have asked the state to get a exemption.

That includes Michigan’s largest school district, the Detroit Public Schools Community District, which kicked off the school year on Monday, Aug. 29.

Moving the start is intended to help improve student attendance in the spring by ending the school year earlier than mid-June to late June, while giving the district more time to recruit and enroll students before on the day of the state’s student count in October, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

“I think this will improve overall and district-wide school attendance because we won’t see the drop in school attendance in June,” Vitti said. “I also think that students and families are more eager for students to be in school before Labor Day, compared to (being in school) mid to late June.”

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Frankenmuth Community Schools Superintendent Grant Hegenauer finds himself in a different scenario, balancing the priorities of families and perhaps students who are a key part of the town’s tourism workforce.

Frankenmuth is one of only two districts in the Genesee Middle School District’s 21 districts to start the year Sept. 6, though ISD received a waiver from MDE. Hegenauer said he sees the benefits of working in partnership with the city’s tourism industry, while giving students the opportunity to learn “soft skills” by working in the city.

“It really allows our students to receive what I would consider a work-based learning process over the summer to give them real-life experiences because there are plenty of opportunities to work in the city,” said Hegenauer.

To start or to savor the summer?

Schools and districts are at no risk of being denied a waiver request, spokesman Bill Disessa said. The legislation gives the state superintendent the sole power to issue them.

When a Labor Day waiver is requested, a district should hold a joint public hearing at a district or middle school district location to notify the community. School districts with waivers are also required to take the Friday before Labor Day.

MDE and other state organizations, like the Michigan Association of School Boards and the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, believe that school districts should be able to determine when they start their school year. They support House Bill No. 4199, which would repeal the 2005 law.

“MOE supports the bill because districts would not have to request waivers from the state superintendent, nor would MDE have to process those requests,” Disessa said. “Furthermore, staff and resources at the local and departmental level would not have to be used for the joint public hearing required before a Labor Day waiver could be granted to districts and public school academies.”

Proposed by state Rep. Pamela Hornberger, Township of R-Chesterfield, chair of the House Education Committee, the bill had a third reading on March 15 after being introduced in February 2021. But it has not budged since, as have previous bills attempting to repeal the law, in part due to lobbying by the travel and tourism industry.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association favors schools that start after Labor Day, as Michigan’s summer months play a vital role in Michigan’s $18.8 billion visitor spending in 2020.

Employment supported by this visitor spending counted nearly 275,000 jobs in Michigan, according to a report prepared for the Michigan Office of Tourism, making the last weekends of summer critically important to businesses that rely heavily on the summer months for their revenue.

“There are people who make a good chunk of their money from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and when you take away two, three weekends, that has a huge impact on their bottom line,” said John McNamara, vice -president of government affairs for the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association. said.

With its sandy beaches attracting thousands of tourists to the shores of Lake Michigan, every summer weekend is precious in Grand Haven.

With that in mind, Grand Haven Area Public Schools Superintendent Scott Grimes said starting school after Labor Day gives schools two realistic options for completing the mandatory 180 days of instruction per the state – add a week to the end of the school year and exit the second week of June or take days off scheduled holidays and exit the first week of June.

Grand Haven tried both options, Grimes said, before ultimately using Ottawa County’s ISD waiver to start the school year Aug. 24. The opening of three- and four-day weeks to start the year has allowed Grand Haven to retain its regular vacation. breaks and getting out of school the first week of June, he said.

“Our district is aware of the tourism industry as we negotiate our school calendar, but we already have many students returning for fall athletics and other activities, (and) the start of the holiday season. Work seemed to be best suited to our families and staff,” Grimes said.

The pitfalls of an early start

When Flint Community Schools adopted a balanced schedule a few years ago, it made the Genesee County School District one of the first in the state to start school in early August.

As principal at the time, current superintendent Kevin Jones said he understands the district’s intent to try to help students with learning loss by returning to class earlier. But with just 1,600 of the district’s 3,100 students showing up on the first two days, beginning Aug. 3 this year, Jones said it’s clear the district needs to weigh its options for next year.

“It’s not working for our school community,” Jones said. “No matter how hard we try, we still don’t get our scholars back at the start of the year.”

Despite the calls and the door-to-door, the district did not meet the state-required 75 percent attendance threshold for the first two days of the school year. The district has since determined that about 2,500 of its students are enrolled, which has seen daily attendance increase to more than 85% since then, Jones said.

With many families still on vacation and others with children attending schools in other districts starting later, Jones said Flint will speak with his teachers’ union to determine the best time to start the school year. , hoping to launch the idea of ​​a more robust summer program with a later start to school.

Other districts, such as Northview Public Schools in Kent County and Fowler Public Schools in Clinton County, have opted out of using waivers this fall, as their neighboring districts are doing. The two will instead use the extra time to complete school building construction projects.

However, it’s usually very difficult not to follow what other ISD schools are doing in terms of scheduling, with important programs like Vocational Technical Education taking place across the county, said the superintendent of Fowler, Mark Horak. But districts must do what works best for their students and families, many of whom tend to care more about when the school year ends than when it begins.

“I don’t think it matters much at the start of the year, it’s just the concerns at the end of the year when everyone wants to get into the summer and our seniors want to get into the next chapter of their life,” Horak said.

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