I started whining about the early start of school sometime around the start of August.
"It's unAmerican," I grumbled to anyone who would listen. "Who starts school before Labor Day?"
The answer, it turned out, was lots of districts, including, for the first time, the Philadelphia School District. Philadelphia made the switch mostly to front-load the school year with as much instructional time as possible, my colleague Kristen Graham reported. Other area school officials starting earlier mentioned building in enough cushion for inevitable snow days.
The problem with starting school smack in the middle of summer (which doesn't officially end until Sept. 22) is that — guess what! — it's still really hot. And this week, heat indexes are forecast to climb into triple figures Tuesday and Wednesday.
The classrooms at my kids' school aren't air-conditioned. (The music room and cafeteria are, but they can't play the recorder and snack all day.) The classrooms at a lot of schools in the region aren't air-conditioned, either because the buildings are old, because districts are underfunded, or because we typically didn't send our kids to school before Labor Day.
I got the call at 9:49 a.m. Tuesday that because of the high temperatures, my elementary school children would be dismissed at 12:20 p.m.
The second day of school.
At least I got some notice about that.
I'm not complaining that my children will be at home with me in our air-conditioned house. It is hot as the blazes outside. I can't imagine how hot it is in their school. And I'm happy that teachers and other staff won't have to work to wrangle kids under those conditions.
I'm complaining that this was a problem that apparently no one could foresee. My district seemingly couldn't tell it was going to be boiling hot until two hours before they sent the kids home. In Philadelphia, parents got a little notice that students would be coming home early on Tuesday and Wednesday — the district made the announcement Monday afternoon. But as any working parent without backup childcare will tell you, that's often not enough time to come up with other plans.
I'm also concerned about how disruptive this is to the start of the school year. Much of the first week of school is about establishing routines and setting expectations and guidelines. In fact, Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said his district's early start this year was prompted in part by a desire to stack the year with as many uninterrupted weeks of class as possible, Graham reported.
Leaving in the middle of the day certainly counts as an interruption.
I am not unsympathetic to the school officials trying to find balance. I lost track of how many snow days we had during the 2017-18 school year, and how many times I got a call at the office letting me know that I needed to pick up my children because school was closing early due to a storm.
But getting a call to pick them up because of heat is no improvement.
Let's rethink the start of school before Labor Day.