Palm Beach County Schools Postpone Decision On Start Date After Criticism

South Florida Sun Sentinel | by Lois K. Solomon | January 20, 2020

Parents and students made it clear on Wednesday night: They don’t want a shortened summer after this pandemic school year.

Hearing the frustration, the Palm Beach County School Board postponed a vote to start school on Aug. 10, the earliest date allowed by the state, for the next two years.

The proposal would have shortened the upcoming summer vacation from the traditional 10 weeks to seven weeks. That’s because school started and will end three weeks later this year, on June 18, due to COVID-19.

“Why cut the summer down to just seven weeks?” Boca Raton parent Scott Simon asked the board. “Why not at least eight weeks?” He said his daughter will miss out on summer academic programs that are seven weeks long.

School board member Karen Brill agreed.

“I’m really shocked we’re looking to start as early as we are,” she said.

Florida’s August school start dates tend to jolt parents who grew up in Northern states that started each school year after Labor Day. Aug. 10 is the earliest start date allowed by state law, and Palm Beach County has been starting on that date or close to it for many years, although the pandemic forced it three weeks later in 2020.

In Palm Beach County, the school board likes the first semester to end before winter break. In a 180-day school year, they need to get in about 90 days of school before Christmas. There are typically a lot of holidays in the fall, including two Jewish holidays and a week off for Thanksgiving. These district-wide days off force increasingly early start dates, to the dismay of some families that send their kids to Northeastern sleep-away camps or plan family vacations in August.

Still, there are groups that prefer the early start dates, including unions that represent employees such as bus drivers and food service workers, who are not paid over the summer and want to get back to work as early as possible.

“Many could be in danger of losing their houses or their vehicles,” said Chuck Ridley, a union representative. “It would be completely irresponsible of this school district to change their pay schedule without a good reason.”

The board will revisit the calendar on Feb. 3.

Photo: Palm Beach County students returned to in-person classes Sept. 21, 2020, including at the new Verde K-8 in Boca Raton. (Palm Beach County School District/Palm Beach County School District)

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