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School could start later next year in Philly, after Labor Day

After a heat wave triggered school closures during an earlier-than-usual start this year, the district is proposing to push the date back.

Too hot for school: District kids, like these at Dunbar Elementary in North Philadelphia. were dismissed early at the start of the year from their broiling classrooms.
Too hot for school: District kids, like these at Dunbar Elementary in North Philadelphia. were dismissed early at the start of the year from their broiling classrooms.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

Summer might last a little longer for Philadelphia students next year.

After sweltering heat forced school closures during an earlier-than-traditional start this year, the School District is recommending that classes next year begin Sept. 3, after Labor Day.

The proposal, which district officials presented to a school board committee Thursday night, would mark a return to the district’s past practice of not starting classes before Labor Day. This year, the school year began Aug. 27 — a full week before the holiday.

But a heat wave disrupted the early start. Without air-conditioning, many district schools dismissed students early.

At Thursday’s committee meeting, Chief Schools Officer Shawn Bird told board members that the hottest day at the start of this school year wasn’t during the first week, but the day after Labor Day. (The high that day, Sept. 4, was 93 in Philadelphia; the high on Aug. 29 was 95. It did reach 95 on Sept. 5 and 6.)

“We can’t ever predict the weather,” Bird said.

While district officials said that weather wasn’t the determining factor in their decision to recommend a later start, “there was certainly feedback on that,” spokesman Lee Whack said.

The district gathered opinions on the calendar through a survey posted to its website and an email to employees. It got 6,000 responses, according to district officials, who then formed a committee and a parent focus group to evaluate two calendar options. They also consulted SEPTA, Bird said.

Respondents prioritized time to rest and time off for cultural and religious holidays, Bird said. He said parents placed “high importance” on starting the school year close to Labor Day.

In addition to pushing back the first day, the proposed 2019-20 calendar would allot eight days for winter break and a week for spring break, with the year ending June 12. School can’t run past June 15 next year, Bird said, due to an issue with how teachers are currently paid.

“There’s actually not a whole lot of wiggle room in the calendar,” Bird said. “There’s 180 days you have to go, and holidays you have to take.”

Still, he said, “we could miss four days and not have to make up any time" for snow days, based on instructional hours. Only after the first four, Bird said, would the district have to make up days by drawing from spring break.

The district also proposed a calendar for 2020-21 that would begin Aug. 31 -- before Labor Day, which isn’t until Sept. 7 that year -- and include a full two weeks for winter break and one week for spring break. Classes that year would end June 14.

The school board is expected to vote on the new calendars at its Dec. 13 meeting.