Should Pennsylvania schools start after Labor Day?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A move by a neighboring state is stirring up discussion among businesses and school administrators in central Pennsylvania.

On Wednesday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order requiring all schools to begin classes after the Labor Day holiday, effective at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

Using the Ocean City boardwalk as a backdrop, Hogan cited recent surveys in which a majority of Maryland residents said they favored a post-holiday holiday weekend start. The move is being called an economic booster, extending family vacation time and capitalizing on tourism dollars that are lost in places like Ocean City and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Midstate business can relate.

“The week after the kids go back is pretty slow here,” said Andrew Snyder, director of human resources for Lake Tobias Wildlife Park in Halifax, Dauphin County.

The family-owned business, which draws tens of thousands of visitors for its zoo and safari rides during the spring and summer months through Labor Day, experiences a dramatic drop-off in customers when area schools go back into session. The one-to-two-week period leading up to the holiday weekend are also difficult to staff, as dozens of the park’s high school aged employees must return to school.

Hannah Baldwin, a high school senior from Millersburg who works at the park, says the pre-Labor Day start to school cuts her summer earning potential short and results in a disjointed schedule.

“It’s a little choppy,” she said. “If we started school after [Labor Day], it would make more sense because then we would already be in the swing of things. Instead of being like ‘Oh, now I get four days off,’ and then I have to try to get back into, like, waking up early. Plus, if I had a little more money in the bank, I can get more school supplies and some more school clothes, if I need them.”

Snyder concedes that if schools started later, the business would likely experience different staffing difficulties in spring.

“And May is much busier than the fall season,” Snyder added, “so we would really want to have enough employees to cover that main season.”

School administrators say academic calendars are tricky to create and rarely please everyone. According to Dr. Michele Orner, superintendent of the Halifax Area School District, decisions on school start and end dates are best left up to the local school board and should consider the needs of each individual community.

“Pennsylvania is fortunate. The 501 school districts believe in local control,” Orner added. “When we start the school year off with two, four-day weeks, it really helps us with the pre-K and kindergarten kids who might not be used to that five-day-a-week routine. It helps to ease them into a school year.”

In addition, Orner says a rural district like hers might start earlier to accumulate extra snow days, which could serve to offset weather-related cancellations during the winter. Other districts prefer to front-load their school year with teaching days so that students have more time to prepare for state-mandated tests in the spring. Sports schedules must also be taken into consideration when forming a school calendar.

“It’s the community’s expectations, what the community needs,” Orner said.

Whether a Maryland-style mandate could ever lead to Pennsylvania schools starting after Labor Day, it seems unlikely. According to a spokesman for Governor Tom Wolf, it was uncertain if the governor has the same executive authority as his counterpart in Maryland, where schools are organized in a county-wide system. In an email, the spokesperson said the administration “has no plans to explore this issue.”

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