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Middleborough

Middleborough schools opting for pre-Labor Day start

Students in Middleborough will spend the last hazy days of summer in the classroom next August, joining a number of districts south of Boston that ring the back-to-school bell before Labor Day.

The decision, part of a new teachers’ contract last fall, was set in stone last week when the School Committee designated Aug. 27 as the first day of school.

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School Superintendent Roseli Weiss said the change will make the calendar work for the district, rather than hold it prisoner as school drags on into the scorching end of June.

“It’s easier to bring kids and teachers in at the end of August when everyone is rested and relaxed,’’ Weiss said.

This year, because of snow days, school won’t be dismissed until June 24, but next year, under the new plan, students could be released as early as June 12, she said.

Weiss said the district is also considering eliminating February vacation, the second of two ideas that drew mixed feelings from parent Kim Pearson Mulgrew.

“I hate the idea of starting before Labor Day,’’ said Mulgrew, whose son attends Nichols Middle School. “They don’t like to cut into the summer by going until late June,’’ she said. “But it is OK to cut into it on the other end?”

The Mulgrews routinely vacation during the last week of August, so her child will miss the first two days of school, she said.

“I do love the idea of skipping February vacation,’’ Mulgrew said. “They just had a vacation in December, and the weather is still bad in February.”

Jennifer Scolaro Joyce, who has a second-grader at the Mary K. Goode School and a kindergartner at the Memorial Early Childhood Center, said she’s on board for both changes, but knows she’s probably in the minority.

“By the time June comes, the kids are done,’’ she said. “Starting the last few days of August isn’t going to hurt. Most towns do it now anyway.’’

The decision to start school before Labor Day was in vogue for a while, said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, and many districts have opted for the earlier start.

“But because it falls on Sept. 1 this year, we’re not seeing as much emphasis on it,’’ he said. “What we are seeing is that teachers have to come in, but the kids don’t arrive until after Labor Day.”

School starts and vacation days are local decisions, and Massachusetts doesn’t track them, said Lauren Green, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. All schools have to follow the 180-day requirement, she said, as well as student learning time requirements set at 900 hours for elementary-age students, 990 hours for secondary students, and 425 hours for kindergartners.

School will start on Sept. 2 in Wareham; on Sept. 3 in Marshfield; and, in Braintree, on Sept. 3 for grades 1 through 9, on Sept. 4 for grades 10 through 12, and on Sept. 9 for kindergartners.

Like Middleborough, Scituate is looking at a pre-Labor Day start, but not until 2015, said Superintendent John McCarthy.

“Days in June are not typically optimal learning time, and the less school days we have in June the better,’’ McCarthy said. “With the weather patterns over the past two years, and the amount of snow days that have accumulated, we find ourselves going later and later in June.”

In Easton, students at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School had vacation in March the last two years instead of in February and April because of construction, according to Deb Cabral, the assistant to the superintendent.

“We have returned this school year to February and April vacations and always start school after Labor Day,’’ she said.

A summer start, on the other hand, is nothing new for districts like Whitman-Hanson, said Superintendent Ruth Gilbert-Whitner. “It is accepted by the school community,’’ she said of the 20-year tradition.

The same goes for Milton and Randolph, officials there said.

Randolph’s interim superintendent, Steven Moore, said students have started before Labor Day for years to account for religious holidays including Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in September, and Good Friday during Lent.

“Our early start three days before Labor Day counteracts that,’’ Moore said, but even so, with snow days factored in, students will end up in school until late June.

Milton Superintendent Mary Gormley was skeptical seven years ago when the district opted to start school early, but she said the change has been a success.

“I may have been reluctant then, but I am now a full-time advocate,’’ she said. “Kids and teachers really see the difference and we all hit the ground running.”

In Scituate, McCarthy acknowledged that changing traditions is hard, but after discovering a 1948 school calendar with a pre-Labor Day start, he said the community has already shown its flexibility.

“As with any change of this magnitude, where family plans are sometimes built around school vacations, we want to give plenty of notice,’’ he said. “That is why we are beginning the conversation now for September 2015.”

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.
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