APPLEGATE: Berrien County advocates for pre-Labor Day school start

Published 8:43 am Monday, February 24, 2020

Berrien County has applied for a waiver that could allow local school districts to start before Labor Day next year. Due to the large number of students participating in shared time programming, including Career Technical Education, math and science magnet programs, dual enrollment courses and comprehensive special education services, the county is also looking to align the local districts toward a common calendar to maximize the benefit of these countywide programs. The rationale is that a common calendar would generate more opportunities for students as well as expand shared services.

With that in mind, discussions and the gathering of information are underway at Niles Community Schools to determine a path forward in the best interest of our students, teachers and staff.

A proposed common calendar with a pre-Labor Day start could significantly benefit students at all school districts in the county, including Niles Community Schools. The calendar reduces the summer by one week, with school starting before Labor Day, but not before Aug. 31 in 2020. 

For our high school students, the change would benefit both their studies and future plans. While it doesn’t completely solve the differing lengths between fall and winter semesters, proponents believe the biggest advantages of the pre-Labor Day start is the completion of the first semester before winter break. As it currently stands, students have their final exams after winter break, so instead of relaxing and celebrating the holidays with their families and friends, students currently spend time studying and focusing on schoolwork. There would also be additional instructional days prior to Advanced Placement testing, a benefit for many. The change could also benefit the college application process, with grades and transcripts completed and available to be sent earlier. 

Understandably, families may see the change as disruptive to their summer vacation plans. While school would still be closed on the Friday before and Labor Day, end-of-summer vacationers would need to adjust their plans accordingly. Spring break vacationers could see similar effects, as the county considers moving spring break to mid-March to align with high school students taking college courses. This creates a common spring break for all students from kindergarten through college, but could, again, require families to modify vacation plans.

The district has not made any concrete decisions to move away from the traditional calendar at this time, but we will continue to study, listen to and communicate with our teachers, families and students over the next few months. We will look at all options and discuss them with other area districts during this time. Thank you, and Go Vikes!