In July 2019, Gov. Mike Parson approved a bill that shifted summer vacation windows for Missouri students with the goal of improving statewide tourism trends.
Formerly known as House Bill 161 [HB 161], the newly passed legislation states that the first day of classes for local school districts can be scheduled no earlier than 14 days before the first Monday in September. This means, for the 2020-2021 school year, traditional school districts would be barred from starting before Aug. 24. Charter schools or other private institutions are not impacted by the change.
Many school districts have already planned and approved new school schedules to comply with the new law.
The Rockwood School District updated its calendar at the Sept. 26 board meeting. The newly approved calendar has a start date of Aug. 24, which is the earliest allowed by HB 161. Students begin winter break on Dec. 23, returning on Jan. 4, 2021 for one full week of review before finals are given the week of Jan. 11. Second-semester classes begin on Jan. 19. The final day of school is a half-day on June 3, 2021. Spring break spans March 22–26.
According to Dr. Tracy Edwards, director of human resources, the district shifted the calendar to avoid unbalanced semesters or eliminating existing break periods.
“It was already a board-approved calendar, we just had to look to see, ‘Okay, since we can’t start until [Aug. 24], where can we give a little that won’t take us to mid-June’ because we already knew we weren’t going to completely negate a week of winter break,” Edwards said.
Rockwood is still examining various options to address the concern of fall semester finals taking place after winter break. No final decision has been made as of press time.
Parkway School District’s updated calendar was unanimously approved at the regular Board of Education meeting on Sept. 25. Parkway will also begin school on Aug. 24. Students return from a 13-day winter break with one full week of review before finals are given from Jan. 12-14, 2021. Second-semester classes would begin on Jan. 19. The final day of school is scheduled for a half-day on June 3. The spring break holiday in 2021 from March 22-26 aligns with Rockwood’s.
While the top comment was to complete high school finals before winter break, Parkway’s Director of Communications Annie Dickerson said the fall semester would have to have been considerably shortened.
West Newsmagazine reporter and Parkway parent Bonnie Krueger reported that the state law was “controversial, especially at the high school level.”
“Finals will now be after winter break and, for the past 20 or 30 years, it’s been the three of four days prior to winter break,” Krueger said. “So, when kids were off between semesters, they didn’t have to think about school. Now they’re going to come back and have one week of review, and then the following week is finals.”
Dickerson agreed about the feedback from high school families.
“We had a lot of people who actually said they liked the new calendar and the later start date in August,” Dickerson said. “We also probably had an equal number of families, especially high school families, who said they preferred when we kept those finals before winter break … We would have preferred to keep our previous calendar. We thought it worked well for kids and it made a lot of sense for our community.”
In years prior, summer vacation for students began the same week as Memorial Day with students returning mid-August. With the new state schedule, the last day for both districts is June 3 and a fall start date of Aug. 24.
“We essentially just shifted the calendar forward,” Dickerson said. “Now, students just have more time off in August than in May.”
The only exception is summer 2020, which ends the school year in May and continues until Aug. 24, the start of the new 2020-2021 school year.
The Missouri State Teachers Association [MSTA] opposed the new law on the grounds that districts should have the ability to create their own calendars.
“We think that it’s important to consider the local impact of the school calendar and certain events that a community supports or things that are important locally,” Matt Michelson, government relations manager at MSTA, said.
Previously, schools also could start earlier after public notice, open meetings and passage by the school board.
That alternative is not an option under the new law.
“We’ve had a lot of changes to school calendars over the last two to three years,” Michelson said. “School districts are still going to be able to negotiate their calendars. They’re just going to be in a tighter box now.”
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West Newsmagazine reporter Bonnie Krueger contributed to this article.