tampabay.com

Tired of early August school starts? They hear you

Two legislators want a law saying opening day can't be earlier than the week before Labor Day.

By Times Staff Writer
Published October 6, 2005


Two Miami area legislators are sponsoring a bill to return the start of school in Florida to early September or late August.

The legislation is a reaction to districts that in recent years have been starting classes in the first week of August, partly to give students more time to prepare before the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test each spring.

The bill was announced by SaveOurSummers.org, which says it is a grass roots group of parents, students and educators.

"Ordinary parents have been unable to get the school calendar issue to the attention of their local school boards," Sherry Sturner, executive director of the group, said in a statement. "Parents across the state have felt powerless against the creeping back of the start of the school year. Through Save Our Summers, we're helping to ensure that voices of parents are heard and heeded on this important issue."

The bill is co-sponsored by state Rep. Dan Gelber and state Sen. Gwen Margolis, Democrats from the Miami Beach area. It would require Florida public schools start no earlier than seven days before Labor Day each year.

Save Our Summers contends that early start dates cause higher utility bills for schools, limit training and preparation time for teachers, hamper high school students working summer jobs and reduce "quality time" for families.

The group also contends that early start dates have not improved FCAT scores.

Summer break in Florida has shrunk from three months or more in the 1970s to as little as 10 weeks today.

Years ago, many districts adjusted their calendars to be more in synch with university schedules, so teachers could take classes and spring high school graduates could get an early start on college.

Earlier starts also allowed students to take midterm tests before Christmas break. Later, as the FCAT became the centerpiece of Florida's education accountability program, districts started earlier to give schools more time to prepare for the test. The FCAT is administered in February and March.

Supporters of earlier start dates say shorter and more structured summers are better for students, who can lose math and reading skills over a long summer break.