9-5 Not so fast, kids.jpg

Life changes, and then it changes back.

The latest example is the decision by the Missouri Legislature to mandate later school openings starting in 2020 because it makes for a better learning environment and is beneficial to students.

Ha, ha, ha -- just kidding.

Of course those aren’t the reasons. It’s because the Missouri Division of Tourism and the Department of Revenue want extra days at the end of summer for tourists to come spend their money in Missouri on family vacations. 

A lofty educational goal, indeed.

When I was a kid, school started the day after Labor Day. In those ancient days, hardly any schools were air-conditioned. Certainly not the Catholic grade school I attended, though neither were our homes and we all somehow survived July and August in those.

Admittedly, we did not attend school wearing approximately 12 yards of heavy, black material covering everything except our faces. That challenging role was assigned to the Notre Dame nuns who taught us. Sister Ada might have tipped over in the classroom in mid-August.

The day after Labor Day start date held sway, without controversy, until sometime in the 1970s, when we started experiencing Start Date Creep. Colleges may have been Ground Zero for the movement. 

I started college in the late ‘60s when the September start date meant the semester could not be completed before Christmas Break, which is what we called it then. Students went home for Christmas, came back in early January, had maybe a week of classes before semester exams, then got another week off before starting the second semester.

That put the end of the second semester in early June.

Someone in academia, before the Division of Tourism ran things, decided it would be better to end the semester and have exams before Christmas. There was some logic to this. Coming back in January and jumping right into exams may have had a bad effect on achievement,  especially to those who, say, may have needed a week or two to get over New Year’s Eve.

It also had the side effect of establishing the Endless Winter Break (Christmas eventually having been banned as a moniker) because it combined whatever you call the holiday break with the week-long semester break.

Our youngest child, who is a fairly recent college graduate, could have gone around the world in a kayak in the time he had off. The break was so long his last couple of years I felt compelled to ask if he had quit school or accidentally graduated.

So there was that. Start Date Creep created the five-week Christmas/Winter/Holiday/Semester break and it had pushed back-to-school shopping to immediately after the Fourth of July.

Clearly something had to be done – and the tourism people were just the ones to do it.

I conducted an extremely unscientific poll of educators, some active and some retired, and they seemed to be OK with the change. A couple of the retirees, in fact, were adamant that it was about time someone halted the steady backward march of the start date, and they didn’t care if it got done by the State Dogcatcher.

From a political point of view, this is another rich example of puffed-up pols loudly braying the value of local control, except when it concerns something they can’t trust to the yokels. School boards, duly elected by the people whose kids attend their schools, are cut out of the decision.

Even with the change, it’s unlikely we’ll see any post-Labor Day start dates. The old law called for starts no sooner than 14 days before the first Monday in September, though there was an easy work-around for districts that held a public hearing on the matter. St. Louis Public Schools, for example, held such a hearing this year, likely lightly attended, and decided to start school on Aug. 12.

The new law signed by Gov. Mike Parson eliminates the public hearing exception and decrees that public schools will start no sooner than 10 days before the first Monday in September. That means the earliest start date in 2020 will be Aug. 24.

Superintendents are worried about the effect the later start will have on standardized tests, graduation dates and other trivial matters. What fuddy-duddies. Don’t these people realize the value of a late summer Skee-Ball binge at the Lake of the Ozarks?

I just hope the concept of outside interference into educational matters doesn’t spread. What if MoDOT didn’t want school buses on the road until after the paving season?

Or consider what would happen if the most powerful lobby of all, the National Rifle Association, weighed in with the notion that kids don’t belong in school until after deer season in November and that they certainly should be out by turkey season in April?

Four-month school year, here we come.

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