JACKSON — Mississippi schools won’t be forced to start the academic year in late August, as they had been expecting to do.
Gov. Phil Bryant yesterday signed Senate Bill 2571. It negates a previous law that would’ve delayed the start of the school year until at least the third Monday in August.
Gulf Coast tourism officials had pushed for the later start date, saying it would boost the economy by giving families more time for vacation. Legislators passed and Bryant signed such a law in 2012, with the provision that the later start date would take effect during the 2014-15 school year.
Under the new law, local school districts can choose their own start dates. Many Mississippi districts start their academic year in early to mid-August.
House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, said superintendents pushed legislators to keep the start date as a local decision. Many districts are in the process of setting their 2014-15 academic calendars.
“I encourage all districts to consider the needs of students, families and communities when developing their calendars. Inconsistent school start and end dates can have an impact on enrollment in summer school programs for both students and teachers and can also have an impact on tourism throughout the state,” Bryant said in a news release.
Last week, the Clinton school board adopted two 2014-15 calendars — one with the year starting Aug. 18 to comply with what was then the mandated later start, and one with the year starting Aug. 11 in case Bryant signed the bill that he ended up signing Wednesday. With the mandated later date repealed, the Clinton schools will start Aug. 11. Tim Martin, assistant superintendent in Clinton, said the later start date would’ve affected testing schedules and pushed the end of school past Memorial Day 2015.
Mississippi requires schools to have 180 days of instruction each academic year, and a later start date could’ve pushed the end of the first semester past Christmas break.
Supporters of the later start date said that because of heat and humidity in early August, a later start to the academic year would help protect students who have football practice, band practice and other outdoor activities.
The bill that Bryant signed includes several other changes that could affect schools. It says that if a school district loses accreditation for reasons other than academic failure or financial mismanagement, students can continue to take part in sports or other extracurricular activities. It also changes the way teachers receive public money to buy classroom supplies. And it says that students who are at risk of not graduating high school can enroll in courses at community or junior colleges.
“Had the Legislature chosen to send me the school start date change in a stand-alone bill instead of attaching it to a measure that includes many beneficial education changes, I might have taken different action with regard to that provision,” Bryant said.