Journal and Courier: August 3, 2006

School start divides parents

By ERIN SMITH
esmith@journalandcourier.com

Summer vacation for most Tippecanoe County students ends in less than two weeks. But at least one West Lafayette parent believes Aug. 14 is too early to start school.

"There's nothing that impacts the life of the community more than the school schedule," said Vicky Woeste, noting that starting school in the middle of August means the local pools have to shut down operations, among other issues.

"And my perception is the problem's only going to get worse. Aug. 13 is the likely start date for next year. That's fewer than two weeks in August."

Woeste presented the results of a calendar survey distributed to West Lafayette school parents this spring during the West Lafayette Community School Corp.'s regular board meeting Wednesday night.

Of the 2,100 surveys sent out, about 375 were returned, she said.

Most respondents favored coordinating the district's schedule with Purdue University's class schedule and keeping high school final exams in December. Woeste said the survey, created with help from Purdue's Statistics in the Community group, highlighted a deep division between those who prefer the status quo and those who would prefer a later school start date.

Most students, according to Anant Handa, West Lafayette High School's student council president, want to keep the calendar the way it is.

"The thing is high school students really don't want to have finals when they come back from winter break," the senior said, explaining that starting the school year a couple days later would be OK. "Nobody minds pushing it back a little more. ... But as far as pushing it back a week or two, I don't think they want to do that."

In spring 2003, the school board approved a calendar that bumped the high school's final exam schedule before winter break. However, the first semester did not end until a week after students returned from break. Previously final exams were held two weeks after students returned from break.

Since then, West Lafayette students have been among the first in the area to return to school -- usually a week before Purdue classes begin.

Woeste believes state legislators should mandate school to start after Labor Day, something that hasn't been done since the '80s. In previous years, legislation has been proposed to make all Hoosier school calendars begin later in the year. Most bills didn't pass out of committees.

Board president Dianne Sautter said she's interested in approaching legislators about a statewide start date. Doing so might change high school athletic schedules, which also affect school start dates, she said.

Woeste explained there may be other benefits to starting after Labor Day -- namely the cooler fall temperatures.

"Why are we paying to cool the schools for three weeks during the hottest month of the year?" she asked.