Anniston High first day

Anniston High School students walk into school past freshly trimmed shrubbery and landscaping on the first day of classes. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

If no one understands law enforcement more than police officers, and if no one grasps the difficulty of operating a restaurant more than owners of successful eateries, then logic says school administrators should know more about schools than anyone else. Expertise matters.

We say that in response to state Rep. Craig Ford, I-Gadsden, who says he will reintroduce legislation for the next session of the Alabama Legislature that would require schools to start classes no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day.

Ford has done this before, but his effort has never gained real traction at the Statehouse. Shorter summer vacations, Ford says, “hurts Alabama families,” which is hyperbole exported from a calendar’s facts. But hyperbole works well in politics.

The heart of this tug of war over the length of students’ summer vacation rests amid Southern history. Through time, rural counties whose economies depended on agriculture needed youngsters for labor, so school that started before Labor Day was implausible. Those times, though, have largely changed. Plus, America’s tourism industry — especially in states with beaches — lobbies hard for later starting dates for fall classes, saying August is often their most lucrative month.

Educators, however, largely agree that shorter breaks prevent the worst examples of summer learning loss. They also allow schools to finish fall semesters before New Year’s Day and give students additional classroom time before spring assessment tests.

In a recent Facebook post, Ford explained his proposed legislation. “Kids no longer get to spend August playing, going to camp or doing some last-minute reading. Families miss out on important, quality vacation time together. For teachers and other educators, the summer months are the only time they can do any professional development work, such as taking classes for an advanced degree or participating in training programs that help them learn more effective methods for teaching various subjects.”

Ford’s legislation isn’t nuts. But we’d suggest the better option would be for local school boards to decide when their schools begin classes each year — and with few calendar restrictions as long as students are in class for 180 days, a state requirement. Alabama should welcome innovations in public education and understand that what’s best for schools in the Black Belt, calendar-wise, isn’t automatically what’s best for schools in the affluent suburbs.

With few exceptions, we can think of no one more qualified to decide what’s best for local schools than the administrators who lead them.

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