Debate over SC school start dates continues as senators mull over education reform

VIDEO: Debate over SC school start dates continues as senators mull over education reform

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The debate over school start dates in South Carolina continues as the education overhaul bill is in senators’ hands.

Some fear an amendment to the bill could cut days from your students’ holiday breaks.

Senators Greg Hembree and Luke Rankin presented a plan Tuesday that would not allow schools to start before Aug. 15. The proposal puts a hard line on a uniform school start date in South Carolina. The senators argued an earlier start date could eat away at precious tax dollars provided by tourists visiting South Carolina beaches.

“If we are considering the impact on the state by shifting a week, what have you done? It’s not a week of vacation for a week of vacation. It’s a rental rate at the highest price, which generates a higher figure,” Rankin said.

Ranking and Hembree suggested an earlier start date for schools could cost the state $20.83 million per week in the month of August.

Currently, state law mandates schools start no earlier than the third Monday in August, so the Aug. 15th proposal would be relatively consistent with current standards.

However, there’s another part of the plan that has drawn criticism.

The amendment would also require a local school district board of trustees to modify the first semester calendar to make sure the semester ends, and exams are completed before Dec. 24th.

Hembree has suggested that the 90 instructional delays required by state law could be accommodated by cutting districts’ Thanksgiving breaks from three days to two and starting winter break on Dec. 23.

Opponents, like the SC School Boards Association, have argued the state’s current mandate, of starting school the third Monday in August, already makes it increasingly difficult to complete the first semester in the days before the winter holiday break.

“Public pressure has led many school boards to end the first semester before the break and reduce the number of instructional days for students in completing first semester courses,” according to the SCSBA.

Rachel Gamble, a Berkeley County school teacher agreed.

“For the past five years consecutively, we’ve had some sort of major storm in September or October that has negatively impacted first semester, and if you are then going to squeeze that semester even smaller, it makes it very difficult on the teachers, on the parents and the students to make up that time. It makes it so that a second semester class would have almost an advantage,” Gamble said. “I don’t see that tourism should take such a major role in this decision.”

On the other side of this debate, another amendment has suggested the state get rid of a uniform school start date altogether and leave scheduling decisions in the hands of school district boards of trustees.

“A local school district board of trustees of the State has the authority to establish an annual school calendar for teachers, staff, and students; to establish the opening date for students; and to establish the school term for the district,” the amendment states. “The number of instructional hours in an instructional day may vary according to local board policy and does not have to be uniform among the schools in the district."

This change could benefit many schools seeking alternative educational programs. Currently, a district can ask for a waiver to the state law to operate before the first Monday in August. However, this amendment would give all districts in the state the flexibility and option to choose what works best for its students and teachers.

“That’s been something that districts have had to deal with for years and been frustrated with,” Gamble said. “I think you’re going to see parents be way more passionate about this in some ways more than teachers, and that will be really interesting. If parents start to voice their concerns, will the legislature listen as opposed to only teachers giving the concern."

Gamble believes her students are missing out on valuable instructional days.

“Taking advantage of the time that we have and not being stuck into a very small window benefits students. I think letting districts have the autonomy benefits students and parents and teachers," Gamble said.

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