The Appoquinimink School District approved an Aug. 31 start date for 2020, but the Senate is considering a bill that would require public schools to start after Labor Day.

While Appoquinimink School District officials have already approved the day classes will begin for 2020-21, a Senate proposal would conflict with the district’s choice.

Senate Bill 204, introduced Jan. 15, would require all public schools to begin their school year after Labor Day. As of Jan. 23, the bill was awaiting consideration in the Senate Education Committee, according to the Delaware General Assembly website.

The Appoquinimink School District Board of Education approved the academic calendar for the 2020-21 school year at the Feb. 11 board meeting, including a pre-Labor Day start Aug. 31 to avoid the school year ending later in June. 

School district officials don’t want to give up control, while some senators said a later start would have economic advantages. Former Appo students are split on the issue.

Local control

During the February meeting, Appo board member Michelle Wall said this was not the first time a post-Labor Day requirement has been discussed in the General Assembly, and school districts have not changed their mind about it.

“As a school district and as the one of the combined districts of the Delaware School Board Association, we all oppose [the bill] because we think it gives up local control,” Wall said.

In 2015, Sen. Gerald Hocker of Ocean View — who introduced Senate Bill 204 — pushed for the same legislation. According to the General Assembly website, the bill passed the Senate but never left the House Education Committee before the 148th session ended.

Sen. Stephanie Hansen of Middletown said she is ready to support whatever the Appoquinimink School District supports. 

“This is not legislation I am in support of and the fact that Appoquinimink School District is not in support of it, that weighs heavy on my mind,” she said.

Districts have control over when their schools start classes. Hansen said she has not heard any outcry for change from her constituents.

“To me, this bill seems like a solution searching for a problem. I don’t know what the big problem [is] that it is trying to solve,” she said. “We have so many other things we should be dealing with down in the General Assembly.”

Gov. John Carney said it’s common for school districts to begin after the holiday, but each district should have the choice.

“Appoquinimink is different than Cape Henlopen,” Carney said in a Feb. 12 interview with the Middletown Transcript. “My own view is we ought to let the local districts decide what works best for them and what works best for their students.”

Mike Fulk, former Appo district student, thinks the decision should be made locally.

“Each district should have the autonomy to decide their start date,” Fulk said. “A later start date makes sense in districts like Cape Henlopen so those students can finish working at the beach for the season but an earlier start may make more sense in other places to get the students out earlier.”

Appo district alumna Carol Harper-Oneal said she thinks there should be a statewide mandate to begin after Labor Day. 

“It’s an inconvenience because a lot of people take a vacation the last week of summer,” she said.

The bill

The bill argues requiring public schools to start after Labor Day has economic benefits, citing reports. 

Hansen said she has not seen any data supporting this claim.

A report from the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association estimates $369 million would be lost if schools were not required to use a later date, including $104 million in wages and $21 million in state and local taxes. 

The bill says Maryland is considering similar legislation. 

Sen. Bruce Ennis, Townsend and Odessa representative and cosponsor of the bill, said he supported the bill because it was a concern his constituents brought to his attention. He said students who work summer jobs would be able to work longer into the summer.

“I got on the bill to start the discussion because several constituents told me about the impact it has on their kids working with some of these small businesses,” Ennis said.  

He said he has not heard any feedback on the legislation directly from school board members, but he plans to take their thoughts into consideration, which could change his opinion on the bill.

“I read in an email [from a constituent] that if schools start on Labor Day, there could be difficulty for schools getting their curriculum in,” he said.

If signed into law, it would take effect for the 2020-21 school year.

Hocker is the primary sponsor. Cosponsors are Sens. David McBride, Darius Brown, Bruce Ennis, Dave Lawson and Bryant Richardson, and Reps. Ronald Gray, Earl Jaques Jr., Franklin Cooke, Sherry Dorsey Walker, Kendra Johnson and Michael Smith.

Hocker did not respond for comment.

Pre-Labor Day reasoning

Ray Gravuer, the chair of the committee that plans Appo’s academic calendar, said more than half of the feedback the school district received was in favor of the earlier start date.

At the December board meeting, he said beginning after Labor Day for 2020-21 would mean a much later final day.

“In order to get you out of school in a timely manner, we need to start before the holiday,” Gravuer said.

Under the plan to start classes Aug. 31, the last day for students is Friday, June 11, 2021 and the teachers’ last day June 15. 

If classes started Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day, students would stay until June 16 and teachers would finish June 21, Gravuer said.

District officials said high school students in Advanced Placement classes would have less time for classes prior to the AP exams if school began later.

Fall activities, such as band and sports, could be affected by a later start date. Because students are not considered “back in school,” teams could be prohibited from games before Sept. 8.