The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has provided school districts an opportunity to take back some autonomy over their school calendar. A few weeks ago, I wrote that school districts should have the flexibility to set their own start date this fall, but a 2019 bill mandates the start date be no earlier than 14 calendar days before the first Monday in September.
The good news is that school districts will have that flexibility this year. DESE recently announced that “The Missouri State Board of Education voted to grant exemptions to the school start date law that goes into effect for the 2020–2021 school year, given the unusual and extenuating circumstances COVID 19 has presented.”
This waiver is good news for districts. The start date law, however, is an unnecessary restriction aimed at supporting tourism at the cost of education. A mandated start date makes even less sense this year, given the chaos created by COVID-19.
To acquire a waiver, districts must apply to the State Board of Education. Requirements for waiver eligibility (listed under the “Calendars, Finance and Funding” tab) include showing local support for moving the start date (DESE is vague about exactly what this means), holding a public hearing on moving the start date, demonstrating how this exemption will benefit students and their learning, and explaining how this exemption will minimize the transmission of COVID-19.
If a district’s waiver is granted, districts can create a school calendar based on student needs. However, the waiver is only good for the upcoming school year. Next year and beyond districts will have to follow the start date law. The coronavirus is an extreme example of how this law can create problems for schools, but there are many other potential situations where adjusting the school calendar could be necessary.
While it’s welcome news that districts won’t be mandated to start school on a fixed date this year, the underlying problem remains. The school start date law harms kids and schools in Missouri, and lawmakers should just get rid of it.