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Missouri forces schools to start the year later. Educators, some parents aren’t happy

Back to school tips that will help your children have a great school year

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The U.S. Department of Education suggests simple tips to help your children have a successful school year.

Nearly every school district on the Missouri side of the Kansas City area will have to start the year a week later than usual under a new state law taking effect in 2020.

A bill signed this month by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson requires districts to schedule the first day of school no earlier than 14 days before the first Monday in September.

If the law had taken effect this year, that would mean Aug. 19. Almost every Missouri district in the area starts the week before. The lone exception is Blue Springs, which starts Aug. 21.

Now school district leaders, teachers and some parents say that could pose scheduling problems next year as districts grapple with how to make up the time.

“School districts should be setting the school calendar, not legislators,” said Allan Markley, superintendent in Raytown, which starts Aug. 14 this year. “But it is what it is.”

Before the change, the state asked districts to start no earlier than 10 days before the first Monday of September, but it allowed them to deviate from that date as they wished. Now, the 14-day law allows no exceptions.

“We did not want a state law mandating a start date,” said Otto Fajen, legislative director for the Missouri National Education Association, a union representing teachers. “Different parts of the state have different needs. And schools should start based on the educational needs of the students in the school district.”

He predicts “a one size fits all” policy may pose some scheduling complications for districts, such as trying to sync up high school schedules with college schedules for students taking dual credit courses. Some districts may have to redo their entire school calendar.

Backers say the change could help Missouri’s tourism industry by giving families an extra week for vacations in August.

“June and July are so busy for families,” Sedalia Republican Rep. Brad Pollitt said during the bill signing in Parson’s Capitol office. “When August gets here and we’re going back to school the first day of August, it doesn’t give families real opportunities to take their families on vacation.”

The whole issue frustrated John Deutsch, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel from Niangua, near Springfield. “Much more important to have minimum wage workers for the tourist industries than educated kids. Shows where this states priorities are,” Deutsch posted on The Star’s Facebook page.

In an interview later, Deutsch, whose children are grown and grandchildren live out of the state, told The Star, “I just don’t like when legislators put kids’ education second to very narrow financial interests.”

News of the new law started a flurry of comments from parents and others on social media.

“Should be after Labor Day like it used to be!” Chris McGrew, a former Joplin resident, posted on Facebook.

“When I was in elementary school in the 90’s, start day was day after labor day,” posted James Lewis Hannah, who went to school in Independence. “School ended after memorial day, unless we had snow days, which often, we did.”

Others said they believed school should be in session all year long with short breaks throughout the year.

Timberlyn M Pycior-Davila of Independence, where school starts Aug. 14 this year, said the calendar “should be determined by the school district and the parents of that district.”

The new requirement works fine for schools in tourism-rich Lake of the Ozarks. The Osage, Morgan County and Camdenton districts, for example, already start two weeks before Labor Day.

No matter when the school year starts, Missouri districts are still required to provide 1,044 hours of instruction each year. To make up for the later first day of school, they may have students attend further into May or June or add a few minutes or hours to each day to get all the time in.

Back to school

2019 start dates listed by a sampling of area school districts in Missouri and Kansas:

Kansas City, Kansas: Aug. 7 for grades K-6, 9 (early release day). Aug. 8 full day for K-12.

Kansas City: Aug. 12

Shawnee Mission: Aug. 12 for grades 1-7 and 9. Aug. 13 for grades 8, 10-12. Aug. 14 for kindergarten.

Hickman Mills: Aug. 14

Independence: Aug. 14

Lee’s Summit: Aug. 14

Liberty: Aug. 14

North Kansas City: Aug. 14

Park Hill: Aug. 14

Raytown: Aug. 14

Blue Valley: Aug. 15

Center: Aug. 15

Grandview: Aug. 15

Olathe: Aug. 15

Blue Springs: Aug. 21

Includes reporting by The Associated Press.

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