L.A. Board of Education votes to move school start closer to Labor Day

L.A. Board of Education votes to move school start closer to Labor Day

Howard Blume

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday approved a compromise plan that would move the start of school closer to Labor Day, a topic that has generated strong feelings among parents.

The decision moves away from the district’s current “early start” calendar, but also allows students to complete the first semester before winter break.

This year classes began on Aug. 16 and will end on June 9.

“I think we’re starting too early right now,” said board member George McKenna. He insisted that there’s no evidence that students benefit academically from the early start, but families’ summer activities are limited.

The new plan would shift the schedule back one week next year and an additional week the following year, finally settling on a regular starting time the week prior to Labor Day, which is the first Monday in September. The adjusted school year would end later in June.

The issue arose because planning already has begun for next year — and because board members who favor a later start saw a chance to make a change.

Three board members — Scott Schmerelson, Richard Vladovic and George McKenna — sponsored the revised calendar, meaning they needed only one more vote from a colleague on the seven-member body.

The biggest benefit of the August start has been to allow high school students to finish their coursework before the winter break — and that advantage would continue.

The earlier calendar also offered a potential for students taking Advanced Placement courses, for which they can earn college credit. AP exams take place this year in the first two weeks of May. Students who start school earlier have more time to prepare.

The school schedule does not affect state standardized testing. The window for giving these tests is based not on the calendar but on how many days of instruction have taken place.

Although parents in support of a later start have turned in thousands of petition signatures, the nation’s second-largest school system has not determined what the majority want.

Some observers cast the debate as something of a middle-class conflict. Many families favor the later start to coordinate with summer camp schedules across the country and to plan vacations. On the other side are families of many college-bound high school students, who want extra study days before the AP tests.

The board’s student member raised concerns about starting school later.

“Changing the calendar by three weeks could have a negative impact on so many students,” said Karen Calderon, a Hamilton High senior. “These three weeks have been incredibly beneficial to me…. In changing the start date I think we’re limiting the future.”

In the end, however, Calderon, whose vote is advisory, supported the compromise.

The final tally of the elected board was 5 to 2. Steve Zimmer and Ref Rodriguez sided with the three original supporters. Voting no were Monica Garcia and Monica Ratliff.

Garcia said the change would hurt students.

For some parents, of course, a practical advantage of an early start is to get their children out of sweltering homes and parks and into air conditioning.

The early start, however, has driven up air-conditioning costs, according to the district, with the reduced June electricity bill more than offset by the increase in August, a difference averaging about $1.4 million over the last three years, when Augusts have been hotter than usual.

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