The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

May 30, 2012

How flexible is school calendar law, really?

The News Courier

— Over the holiday weekend, a common topic of conversation among parents was the newly passed Flexible School Calendar Act. In some school systems, such as Madison County Schools, parents are learning that fall break will be eliminated. While fall break was eliminated in local school systems a few years ago, some parents take issue with the change in holiday schedules.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice recommended that local superintendents shorten Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks and eliminate most one-day holidays. Memorial Day and Veterans Day are the only mandatory holidays.

While neither Athens nor Limestone County school systems have approved a new calendar — after shredding the ones already created for the 2012-2013 academic year —City Superintendent Dr. Orman Bridges said he will maintain the 180-day calendar, though that will likely mean the first semester will be shorter than the second. The impact on grading schedules is unknown. The challenge is squeezing 180 school days into a 200-weekday academic year.

Some parents, however, like the fact that school must start and end at reasonable times. Rather than the start date that was inching ever nearer to the first of August, school must begin no sooner than two weeks before Labor Day, which will be Aug. 17 this year. In addition, school must end by the Friday before Memorial Day.

The most commonly heard complaint from parents, though, is that the Legislature should have waited to begin the new calendar in the fall of 2013. Many parents already have holiday and vacation plans for the coming year.

It is ironic that tourism is part of the reason for the bill but the changes may actually hinder travel during the school year. The tourism industry in South Alabama has pushed for longer summer breaks to attract more people to the state’s beaches, which in turn brings more revenue to the state. While it’s true many families take summer vacations, it is also true that the majority take trips on spring break.

It seems to be as useful a solution as hitting yourself in the head with a hammer to cure a migraine. It defeats the purpose.

However, rumors circulating that some parents plan to boycott the beaches because they dislike the change are disconcerting. Refusing travel within our state will only hurt our children and our economy. After the BP oil spill, the Gulf area is still recovering. Let’s not punish the wrong people.

This was an ill-timed and ill-advised move by the Legislature but if cool heads prevail it will likely go the way of many state experiments and fade away.