School Committee to Ponder Pre-Labor Day District Opening in ’17

Photo: The Belmont School Committee

Long standing end-of-summer activities of Belmont families could be put on hold next year as a majority of the Belmont School Committee spoke favorably of opening the town’s six public schools the week before Labor Day next September.

The committee’s unofficial consensus came as the school administration presented a draft of next school year’s calendar to the group at its scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

Under the proposed timetable, the 2017-18 school year would begin on Wednesday, Sept. 6, one of the latest opening in many years as Labor Day will be celebrated on Monday, Sept. 4. The late start will also mean kindergarteners would not have a full day until Monday, Sept. 11.

“That’s a long way before classes start,” said Belmont Assistant Superintendent Janice Darias.

The final day of school without snow days included will be Wednesday, June 13. With the traditional five snow days added, the school year ends on Wednesday, June 20, the day before summer.

High School graduation would be on Sunday, June 3, 2018.

While praising the preliminary Almanac, the late start allowed Superintendent John P. Phelan to reiterate a long-standing personal preference that students and teachers benefit from a pre-Labor Day start to the school year.

Phelan said holding two full days of classes on the Wednesday and Thursday before Labor Day allows students “to get all the hot air” out of their systems before the long holiday weekend.

Psychologically, the “first-day worries” experienced by students and teachers are out of the way, and the students are “in school” during the first full week in September, said Phelan.

While traditionally the case against a pre-Labor Day start was predicated on families being on long vacations and in camp up until the holiday, many students, especially in the high school, are active with school events before the holiday. All the fall sports programs have begun training with many scheduling scrimmages and attending pre-season tournaments while the 100-plus member marching band is perfecting their routine during the same period.

And due to the lateness of Labor Day, many local and out-of-state camps will have shut down weeks before and sent the children home.

An earlier start “helps working parents” who have two to three weeks to fill before traditional school starts.

Phelan also noted teachers and staff “liked starting before Labor Day” as it allows them to finish perfunctory classroom matters during the short week and start original studies on the Tuesday after the holiday.

For the majority of school committee members, the change – which would go against district policy to start the school year after Labor Day – is well worth considering.

“I’m more than willing to explore” changing the start of the school year, said Committee member Tom Caputo. Susan Burgess-Cox noted in her family her daughter, entering first grade in September, “had a stomach ache” over the Labor Day weekend due to the anxiety attending a new school while her niece in Acton benefited from two days before the long holiday to explore her new school.

Darias said she would present at least one alternative calendar with students in classes on Wednesday, Aug. 30, (teachers and staff would begin Monday, Aug. 28) at the next school committee meeting on Dec. 13.