Sununu: N.H. Schools Should Start After Labor Day

Sep 5, 2017

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Students are returning to schools across New Hampshire this morning after the long holiday weekend.

For many families, this marks the second or even third week of school, with most communities starting the school year before Labor Day.

Governor Chris Sununu says he wants to see that change.

In an interview with the Union Leader, Sununu says he’s strongly considering a proposal that would require schools districts to start the school year after Labor Day.

"This idea that we go back to school for three days only to be followed by a four-day weekend, that just makes no sense to me. I don't think it makes sense to any parent, frankly," Sununu told WMUR.

The idea is already getting some pushback in the education community.

"Serious consideration of this idea solely as a method to help the tourism industry maintain a workforce through the Labor Day weekend, completely ignores the importance of the work done in our classrooms each day," said Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-NH, the state's largest teachers union. "This proposal sounds like another example of trying to run the state’s public education system like a business, and that approach never works out well for students."

Tuttle said there are practical reasons for the schools to begin before Labor Day. 

"Most schools in New Hampshire are not air conditioned," she said. "If you start after Labor Day, you run the chance of being in school until late June or even July if there are even just a few snow days."

Carl Ladd, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, joined NHPR’s Morning Edition for reaction to the proposal.

Is this a local control issue? I imagine a lot of school districts are going to see this as their purview, and not something we need a state law for.

You know, New Hampshire has a rich tradition of local control and I know that Governor Sununu addressed that in the article. And you know, if the local school district and the local community feels that it's important for their children to start before Labor Day, then it should be a local decision. I think the state does a great job in providing the parameters: either a 180 days calendar, or a calendar based on number of hours. When we're trying to move towards 21st century learning model, I think moving back to a seat-time calendar based on an agrarian schedule doesn't seem to make a lot of sense and I think that local communities can make that decision for themselves.

But again, 180 days would not change.  You still have 180 days no matter if you start a week later or a week earlier. There's also an argument I think, an emotional argument that a lot of parents make that say look let's have a full summer, let's have July and August off for the kids. What would you have to say to that?

I think that that's important but I also think that there are lots of families who struggle and try to make sure that their children get all of the services that they need. A lot of schools are spending the summer providing programs now that feed students during the summer. Sometimes breakfast and lunch, providing activities because parents are working. The days of Ward and June Cleaver and everyone having the stay-at-home moms and having all the flexibility to travel and do all of these things that we envision in a middle class are not the experience of all of our students.

But overall the length of summer wouldn't change, would it?

Well again, it depends. You know school districts that started after Labor Day this year ended up going to school almost until the beginning of July because of the number of snow days. So it really does have an impact. And as a former elementary principal, I can tell you every day that students spend in school after Memorial Day is a tougher and tougher day because by then students are ready to be done. The days are getting longer, school is getting hotter. So there's a lot less learning that goes on in June than there is in August and September.

It does seem like more and more districts have been starting before Labor Day in recent years. Why do you think that's the case?

Well again I think it goes back to trying to get those students who need services back into the system more quickly and trying to get a jump start on on learning because students at the beginning of the year are much more likely to benefit than at the end of the year.

How do you see the governor's proposal to have a statewide law mandating school begin after Labor Day playing out across the state? Do you see that as a real possibility?

Well, I think anything's possible. I've long since given up trying to second guess the legislature on what they would do, but I think I think there is a pretty strong local control tradition in the state and local school boards and local communities I think would feel that that's their realm of responsibility and that they should make those decisions.