Students in Missouri may have up to two extra weeks of summer break next year.
A bill known as House Bill 161 has passed in the Missouri House of Representatives. If signed into law, HB 161 “[removes] the option that school districts may set an opening date more than 14 calendar days prior to the first Monday in September” — according to the actual legislation itself. In essence, HB 161 forces schools to begin no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day.
With only the Governor’s approval needed for this to become a reality in public schools across the state, the question is being asked–at what cost?
House Bill 161 was proposed to the Missouri House of Representatives on December 3, 2018 by Republican Representative Jeff Knight, representing House District 129, just south of the Lake of the Ozarks. After being reviewed by House committees, it was passed in the House on March 6, 2019 and moved to the Senate. On April 30, 2019, HB 161 was passed in the Senate Committee Substitute (SCS) created for its review.
Representative Ian Mackey, of House District 87 in the Missouri House, which includes all of Clayton and parts of Ladue, Richmond Heights and University City, voted against the bill. He believes that it is not the state’s duty to dictate when schools open; instead, that’s the duty of the district. Mackey also said that the bill was proposed to help boost rural tourism, an industry which relies on families coming to places like Silver Dollar City and the Missouri State Fair by extending the summer in hopes of gaining more visitors.
Missouri’s largely rural demographic causes rural representatives (most of whom are Republicans) to be almost entirely in control of the House. However, according to Mackey, “[HB 161] only passed the House as a stand alone bill with 86 votes. The bare minimum needed is 82. This means a lot of Republicans, dozens, voted against it when it was [their] own bill. Which is why I think it was added to a large omnibus bill as an amendment on the floor at the end of the session.”
Bills on education are not normally partisan issues, and HB 161 proved to be a different type of partisan than might be expected. Rather than this bill being about Republican versus Democrat, it’s more about rural versus urban. While rural communities see economic benefits, urban areas will likely see a downfall. Urban areas like St. Louis don’t benefit at all from a bill of this nature, and the summer being pushed back just disrupts summer schedules for students.
However, proponents for the bill argue that education should not take a precedence over tourism. “Revenues in tourism in August are the reason for the bill. Local control was considered and it is a little unreasonable for schools to continue to ask for more money in education funding, but [opposed to] allowing the state to make more money in tourism,” Representative Knight said.
Since the bill was passed by the SCS on April 30, no further actions have been taken, according to the Missouri General Assembly’s website.
While the bill has yet to become a law as of Labor Day, school districts, including Clayton, are already bracing for its impact. The initial excitement at the prospect of a longer summer break has been replaced for some students with concerns about what this will mean for semester finals, the end of the school year, sports and more.
At an assembly on August 16, Clayton High School principal Dr. Dan Gutchewsky suggested adding minutes to the school day as a potential solution.
In a written statement, Clayton Superintendent Dr. Sean Doherty said that districts across Missouri are currently working through the “unintended impact on learning communities” that are sometimes the outcome of choices made in legislative settings.
Doherty added that creating a calendar that dedicates time to effective learning, having high school students take first semester exams before winter break, and other values will continue to be priorities when considering how to redesign Clayton’s calendar to fit the new requirements. He also said the 2020-2021 school year will begin Monday, August 24, and the Board of Education will likely vote on a finalized calendar before the end of the semester.
While these schedule changes may drastically change school life at the high school, sports should remain unaffected. Clayton High School Athletics Director Steve Hutson said that House Bill 161 has not placed any restrictions on high school sports seasons. The first day of the 2020-2021 Clayton High School fall sports season has been set for August 10.
Communities across the state won’t see the full effects of this bill until next school year. In the meantime, school districts are being challenged to find creative and sustainable solutions to balance rules set in place by the government and the needs of their students and faculty.