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Michigan Department of Education grants county-wide Labor Day waiver

Photo by Crystal Hayduk. Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent, Dr. Scott Menzel, reviews information about the Labor Day Waiver with those in attendance at the public hearing with the Michigan Department of Education in Ann Arbor on Feb. 4.

By Crystal Hayduk

Chelsea School District Superintendent Julie Helber will ask the board of education to vote on the school start date for 2020-21 at their next meeting on Feb. 10.

Although the school calendar is not an issue that requires a board vote to approve, Helber said she would like their backing to start classes prior to Labor Day.

The vote comes after the State of Michigan Department of Education (MDE) approved the Labor Day waiver requested by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) at the close of the public hearing on Feb. 4, held at the WISD on Wagner Road in Ann Arbor.

The waiver will be good for three years, ending in 2023.

At the start of the live conference call with Chad Urchike representing MDE, Dr. Scott Menzel, WISD superintendent, said that in order to obtain a waiver, which allows schools to start classes prior to Labor Day, districts must show that an early start promotes educational goals; and a public hearing must be held so that the community can provide comment and ask questions.

The hearing was sparsely attended by the public, but many districts were represented by administrators and board members.

Menzel said that the WISD requested the waiver to save time and paperwork for the state and county districts. Saline and Whitmore Lake already have waivers and began school early this year. Manchester was in the process of applying for a waiver for 2020.

Although district administrators and teachers identify many educational benefits for starting school prior to Labor Day, only one is required for the waiver request. The WISD Labor Day waiver request recognizes the need for school calendars to align with the Early College Alliance.

Menzel said that the waiver permits, but does not require, school districts to begin classes before Labor Day. Each district will be able to establish its own start date. The only common calendar requirement among county districts is for winter and spring break. 

Barbara Read, Dexter parent and school board trustee, placed the focus on the students when she asked, “When do students do their best learning?”

Menzel said that the question of what is best for the students should drive the conversation about school start dates.

Bryan Girbach, superintendent of Milan Area Schools, spoke about a number of benefits for high school students. He said that students who attend the South and West Washtenaw Consortium and Washtenaw Community College lost nine days of instruction last year because the calendars were not aligned.

Girbach also said that AP and standardized test dates are set at a national level, giving students who start school earlier an advantage due to the extra instructional time before the exams.

Sports and other extracurricular activities that begin in August require students to be present regardless of class schedules. “We had three football games before school started last year,” said Girbach.

The state requires that students attend class for 180 days (up from 165 required days in 2011 and prior). “In the end, it’s just a shift,” he said.

Families with older children will remember when area schools regularly started before Labor Day. The switch to a post-Labor Day start happened in 2006, after Michigan’s then-Governor Jennifer Granholm signed Public Act 144 into law in hopes of boosting tourism. Since then, both individual school districts and intermediate districts have been able to apply for a waiver allowing a pre-Labor Day start. 

Photo by Crystal Hayduk. A scene from the Labor Day Waiver Public Hearing at the WISD on Feb. 4.
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