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Record Number of Michigan Schools to Start Early

Jennifer Chambers, The Detroit News, July 31, 2017 

A record number of Michigan school districts are bypassing the state’s 17-year ban on starting school before Labor Day and opening their doors to students in August.

A total of 123 school districts across the state have received waivers from the Michigan Department of Education that release them from the requirement to start school after the late summer holiday.

At least 99 school districts and charter schools — as well as 24 intermediate school districts — obtained waivers this year.

It’s the highest number granted since the department began issuing waivers in 2006 to side-step the state law designed to boost state tourism in August and early September.

One education trend pushing the number of waivers up statewide is steady growth in the number of districts offering Early/Middle College programs, which give students the chance to earn associate degrees or certificates along with their high school diplomas, said Bill Disessa, a state education department spokesman.

Of the 123 applications approved for the 2017-18 school year, 55 sought an early start to align their school calendars with post-secondary institutions.

“Many of these programs require that the district and post-secondary calendars align, and many post-secondary institutions have start dates prior to Labor Day,” Disessa said.

Districts are granted waivers because they meet exemptions built into the law. Those exemptions also include increased instructional time as part of a reform plan as well as balancing a school calendar for year-round schooling.

Forty-one districts approved for the waivers are year-round schools. Seven schools labeled as “persistently lowest achieving” will use their waivers as part of an intervention model with increased learning time.

Also this year, 24 of Michigan’s 56 intermediate school districts received a waiver to start school before September. Under a change in the law that occurred last school year, the state allows an ISD to obtain a three-year waiver that covers all of its local districts.

Only 67 waivers were issued last year — a dip attributed to the change allowing a waiver obtained by an ISD to cover local districts, Disessa said.

None of the waiver requests was denied this year thus far, Disessa said. Districts must re-apply every year — unless they fall under an ISD waiver. Districts must have applied for a waiver by July 30.

ISDs with waivers this year include Oakland, Genesee, Kent, Jackson and Ingham. Within the 24 ISDs, there are 253 individual school districts that can opt to use the waiver for an August start.

State education officials said that means 376 districts out of 900 statewide — about 42 percent — could potentially start school next month. However, the waiver is optional and individual ISDs won’t learn until September — when they get calendars from local districts — which ones started in August and which did not.

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