For true flexibility, this shouldn’t be passed

Published 12:04 am Saturday, March 24, 2012

It’s back.

The perpetual effort – touted mainly by the state’s tourism and summer camp industries – to centrally control local school system calendars is back in the Alabama legislature. This year, the effort led in the past by Democrats, comes in the form of a bill sponsored by Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne. Called the “Flexible School Calendar Act of 2012,” the bill actually gives no flexibility in the calendar. Instead, it sets fixed start and stop dates for the school year. Since schools are required to be in session a set number of days, that leaves very little flexibility in the schedule.

Davis sponsored a similar bill with the same name last year, but it didn’t get anywhere. This year, the bill passed the House Education Policy Committee with 12 yes votes.

The “Flexible School Calendar Act” actually requires that beginning with the next school year, local school systems couldn’t start classes any “earlier than the Monday two calendar weeks before Labor Day, unless August 31 is a Monday, then on Monday, August 17, and the last day of instruction for students shall be no later than the Friday immediately before Memorial Day.”

Basically, the school year will start no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day and end no later than late May.

It’s understandable that the tourism and summer camp industries are concerned about the summer months being eaten up by classes. School systems have started classes much earlier than mid-August and ended classes weeks after Memorial Day. When summer vacations are cut short, so are the profits of those businesses dependent on the tourism industry.

But the larger concern must be what’s best for Alabama’s schoolchildren, and local boards of education are in the best position to know that.

There are 133 public school districts in Alabama, meaning there are at least 133 separate situations.

School system start and stop dates depend on many factors. Along the Gulf Coast, where Mardi Gras is a huge part of the culture, schools typically are on holiday for the last week of the “season.” In Covington County, Fat Tuesday is not a factor for attendance.

True flexibility would mean allowing individual school boards to set the school year for their schools.

For true flexibility, this “flexibility” bill should not be passed.