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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Florida Legislature upsurps local control

From the North Florida Daily News

by Katie Tammen

The Okaloosa County School Board has pushed back the start date for the 2012-13 school year.

In a unanimous vote earlier this week, the board opted to change the start date to Aug. 20.

The board originally had approved a calendar that would have started classes Aug. 9 and ended them May 22, 2013.

The school district decided to change next year’s calendar, in part, to align it with this year, when classes began Aug. 22.

School officials had planned to begin the current school year Aug. 5, but had to change it last spring after the district failed to meet the state standards for starting classes early.

Under state law, only school districts who earn high performing status from the Department of Education can begin classes more than two weeks before Labor Day.

“It’s prudent to go to a later start that we know can be consistent every year,” Ryan Gore, who oversees the calendar committee for the district, told the School Board on Monday night.

Aside from the different start date, the new calendar also will alter several school breaks and have the first semester conclude after the Christmas break.

Students will be off Nov. 19-23 for Thanksgiving, Dec. 21-Jan. 4 for Christmas and March 25-29 for spring break in 2013.

The school year will end June 6.

Superintendent of Schools Alexis Tibbetts said she wasn’t pleased that the district had to make the change and hopes to see amendments to state laws regarding school start dates.

“I haven’t given up on this. I feel like the state legislators’ intrusion into when local school districts start school is overreaching,” Tibbetts said. “The legislators should not tell school districts when to start school.”

She said the earlier start date can be key to helping students in all grade levels. For high school students, starting school earlier makes dual-enrollment, AP courses and college applications easier. Elementary students get more in-class instruction before they have to take the FCAT, which determines in some grades levels whether or not a student gets promoted.

Tibbetts said she and other superintendents and school boards across Florida plan to lobby for a change to the law in the near future.

“This law is counter to what we should be doing,” Tibbetts said. “There’s all kinds of unintended consequences with this legislation.”

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