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Skerritt column: Law tweak could restore early school starts

It looks like the Florida Senate is about to mess around with summer vacation again.

Senate Bill 2816 is up for committee discussion in Tallahassee on Wednesday. The idea is to give local school districts more flexibility about when they could start the school year.

That sounds reasonable, but the proposal could weaken one of the most family-friendly pieces of education legislation passed in recent years and set the stage for students to again return to school in the first week of August.

The present school calendar isn't perfect. We'd be moving toward year-round scheduling if we were really serious about pushing students to learn. But we're not there yet, and the current legislative tweaking isn't going near that issue.

It seeks to "correct'' a law passed two years ago when some school districts reconvened from summer vacation as early as July 31 because educators wanted to get a jump on preparing for the all-important Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Starting early meant getting students tested before the winter break.

Whether that translated into better test scores, it did cause a growing resentment among parents who felt shortchanged because their kids were rushed back into school in the summer, even as many of their out-of-state friends and relatives came to visit. Legislators responded by barring districts from reopening more than 14 days before Labor Day.

Some saw this move as a triumph of nostalgia — catering to parents who recalled their own lazy days of summer. But it was more than that.

"This really affects valuable family time, " said Miami-Dade resident Sherry Sturner, whose group Save Our Summers lobbied successfully for the change.

Critics said her group was a pawn of the restaurant and resort industries who love having all those willing high school students available to work in August.

That's unfair. This is a clash of values: education excellence vs. family time. There should not be a law against having both.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at askerritt@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.

Skerritt column: Law tweak could restore early school starts 03/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 1:55pm]
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