FHPS to start new school year before Labor Day

Katianna Mansfield

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I am okay now
February 16, 2018

Just recently, the FHPS district has decided on starting the 2017-18 school year a week prior to the usual starting date, beginning school on August 28th.

In previous years, the Michigan Department of Education would not sign a waiver for the district to start earlier than Labor Day as is mandated by the state. However, due to recent collaboration with colleges and universities that start their academic school year in late August, the DE approved 19 other school districts as well as FHPS to start earlier.

Some districts have decided to start two weeks prior, their starting date being the 21st of August, but FHPS, trying to accommodate for family vacations and plans, are only starting one week early.

The 2016-17 school year started at normal time but had a shorter winter break and will end usual time, somewhere around June 10th.

Due to the state’s gradual increasing of days to get back to the 180 days it used to mandate before the changing of the law in the 90s, Michigan schools went from requiring 175 days in-school in their schedule to 180 last year. Keeping the usual schedule for years because of the DE’s unwillingness to sign the waiver to start prior to Labor Day, the December break had to be shorter.

I think that is a benefit of allowing students [to have] a true break from school between semesters, just like at the college level.”

— Dan Behm

This new school calendar will bring back the two-week winter break the school had before, and officials are hoping that it will perhaps lead to a potential finish of the first semester before winter break.

“I think that is a benefit of allowing students [to have] a true break from school between semesters, just like at the college level,” superintendent Dan Behm said, “where students can recharge their batteries and unplug from the stresses of academic life.”

Behm believes that students will enjoy the more balanced calendar so that there are not super short breaks or having to attend school late into June when everyone is restless.

“If you think about it from a student’s perspective, you take all of your exams before break, and then you truly have nothing hanging over your head [over break],” FHC principal Steve Passinault said. “No papers due, [and you] don’t have to worry about exams coming up in a few weeks. You have two weeks of nothing. You start up in January, and you start a fresh semester.”

Other reasons for the schedule change being that students typically start getting involved in school activities, whether it’s marching band or athletics in early August, so starting early, Behm believes, “seems a decent compromise.”

Also, national tests like the SAT or AP exams are given on the same exact date all across the country. If students in Tennessee start the school year in mid-August, they have a few more weeks of academic preparation before that test date that is the same all across the country. This puts those students on, in Behm’s words, a “more even playing field” with other students across the nation.

While Behm does believe that kids should be kids and experience learning over the summer informally, whether it be through travel, summer camp, or visiting historical places around the state or country as they are “robust learning experiences,” he does believe, with advanced planning, FHPS students and families will be able to manage those experiences.

The in-between days off and half-days or hour delays have not been scheduled yet but will be decided soon. As is the law of the state, students may not be in school the Friday before Labor Day, so the first week of school will be a four-day week.

“We plan to make a decision for the 18-19 school year calendar by next February,” Behm said. “It’s possible we may go with the common calendar and start two weeks early. We’d like to learn how that is working for school districts that will do that next year and also take some time to review more deeply our own ideas about that.”