K-12 Schools Opening In July

EconoSpeak: K-12 Schools Opening In July, Econospeak, Barkley Rosser, July 31, 2021

I long knew it was coming, but it has arrived.  I learned of this because some have closed due to heat and or the pandemic surging, K-12 schools.  This happened in Arizona.  They opened in July.  Really.  People in those districts may think this is fine, but I am horrified.  I view this as a situation where a frog has been in a pot of increasingly hot water that has now boiled, almost literatlly given some of these schools having to close temporarily due to extreme summer heat. What were they thinking?

They were not thinking.  It just crept up on them, and I know of districts near me that will open in just over a week, early in August, while others will open later. How did this come about?

It has come on gradually. Control over timing of school schedules has always been locally controlled, although sometimes state governments have intervened somewhat. When I was in school long ago it was a norm throughout the whole country that K-12 schools did not open until after Labor Day. That began to break down in the 1979s in many places, although there are still places that hold to that old norm and do not start until after Labor Day.

One thing that encouraged this was coming from higher education.  When colleges and universities start after Labor Day, the first semester does not end until in January after the Christmas break, which many did not like. There is a certain virtue of finishing the semester before that winter break, but in most places that means starting a bit earlier, basically in late August.  And that is what has been the case where I have been teaching, JMU, since I started 44 years ago, and still holds. This year classes will start on August 25, not too bad and getting us done for the fall semester before the winter break.

So many local school systems moved to start earlier, but why did they not keep their starting times in late August?  The problem is that if one does not think about it and make appropriate adjustments every few years, there is a tendency for the starting time to creep earlier by a day each non-leap year and two days earlier during leap years.  This year August 25 is a Wednesday, but the equivalent Wednesday last year was on August 26, and the year before it was August 28.  If a system does not have some external rule such as starting after Labor Day, there is no clear incentive for local school boards to make the adjustment of moving the starting date to nearly a week later than it did the previous year, which must be done once every several years if one is going to avoid having that starting date creep earlier and earlier.

Well, obviously there are lots of school boards that have been just too stupid, frankly, to figure this out and have simply let this go on and on. So now we are here where some are starting in July.  As I started with, this is absurd, and even early August is just too darned soon.  But I do not hold my breath that these places will figure this out and make proper adjustmenst.  Heck, we may end up with schools starting in June is some especially stupid places some day.

Barkley Rosser