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When should kids be in school?

The school schedule. That's the next frontier in debates about the American educational system. I'll save my opinion for the end, but it's been a rough weather week in the US so this debate topic has been front and center. Despite wind chill warnings which were at -30F with frostbite in under 15 minutes. There was a strong contingent of parents complaining about the days off--frozen bus engines which could leave elementary-age children stranded on street corners be damned.

Our own school district explained their policy of -25 wind chill in an e-mail that also included the news that we'd be making up our 2 missed days with an extension of the school year in June. This causes grumblings as well due to the various holidays and institute days which could be used. After missing 2 days of school last week, the kids have a long 4 day weekend coming up. It does make it difficult to get in any sort of rhythm. A shortened spring break was also considered by the district...something probably rejected due to the number of families who schedule vacations and trips to be out of town. But the same argument could be used to reject end-of-year time. Our family does the annual Tour de Pepin in Minnesota in early June so that any more days added will mean my son simply skips the end of school.

Of course, our community is no stranger to this whole juggling act. A group of parents is complaining about the lack of air conditioning in many of our schools--summer classes early in the term become controversial. The same with the fact that the First Day of School keeps getting bumped earlier into August. Another group of parents says this cuts into vacation, summer camp, sports camp, summer job opportunities, the like. The timing of finals for the first semester comes into play, too.

Illinois, apparently, handles weather-related school closings differently than I grew up with...here, our first 5 days of school closings must be made up later with Day 6 and up being written off as "calamity" days. Where I grew up in Ohio, days were built into the school calendar so that it was the reverse--initial snow days were not made up but extensive snow days would require re-scheduling.

Then there is the demographic who wants year-round school. Or "on-two-off-two" proponents who like their kids on a rotating bi-weekly vacation/school mix. In Nebraska, they adjust both the calendar and the daily class schedule for farm kids who traditionally had to go help with harvest and chores. Then there is the debate over the early start to the school day where many parents and kids think 7am is too early to start classes.

In Britain, there is controversy over the fact that family vacations are mandated during school holiday so that families are both discouraged, and sometimes prosecuted, for taking time off when school is in session. Most American families can tell you that some of the best airfare and hotel rates--and smallest crowds--happen during the off season.

Should kids have to be in school at all? What about activities and learning that isn't offered at your child's school? If your district doesn't offer computer classes, is it ok to pull your child out of school to make sure they get the skills on, say, a college campus or via online courses?

There is no making everybody happy. I'm not even sure I have an opinion other than this...we need more relaxed rules about absences. If my child isn't in school then they're not in school. Every family and every child has different needs. I tend to favor Labor Day to Memorial Day, roughly, but there should probably be more community consensus over the whole subject. Many districts are tied by state rules about teacher professional days, etc., but I'm always happy to see schools ask parents to use their common sense. If it's too hot or cold for your child, stay home. If your child is spending a month in some amazing program somewhere and needs a week out of school, enthusiastically support it. If a family has a vacation or religious holiday, support it. Yes, it makes it difficult to keep all the students on the same page...but given all the problems listed above do you really think we're going to come to some solution on when kids should be in school?

School districts can certainly become more customer-friendly, but parents probably also need to chill. Being in school is important, but then again the world doesn't revolve around you and your family's needs. Not to downplay your family...by all means, do what is necessary for yours. We just have to find a way to make it work for everybody. Sometimes that means cancelling school at 30-below. Sometimes that means half the school won't be there on the day before Thanksgiving even if you put it as a scheduled school day.

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