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Detroit students will get jump start on learning if the board agrees to begin classes in August

Classes would begin before Labor Day for the coming school year in the Detroit school district — part of a proposal that would mark the first time in years students in the district would head back to class in August.

It’s a big shift in the district for a number of reasons. It could disrupt the late August vacation plans of teachers and parents and mean a shorter summer break for students. But it could result in a jump start on learning, and align Detroit with a growing number of school districts and charter schools statewide starting early.

The first day of school would be Aug. 26 for students. Teachers would be required to begin reporting on Aug. 19. Students will still receive 180 days and 1,098 hours of instruction, per state requirements. The last day of school would be June 12.

The finance committee of the Detroit school board approved the academic calendar for the 2019-20 school year. It would still need approval from the full school board.

And, the Michigan Department of Education would have to approve the district’s request for a waiver that would allow it to start before Labor Day.

State law bars schools from starting the school year until after Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 2 this year — part of an effort to boost tourism in the state. Increasingly, though, school districts and charters have gotten waivers from the state education department.

The number of waivers grew from 26 for the 2012-13 school year to about 150 for the upcoming school year, according to an August Detroit Free Press story. So far, 163 have been granted for the 2019-20 school year, and another six waiver requests are pending approval.

Michigan has about 550 school districts and 300 charter schools.

District officials said the calendar was developed in collaboration with seven unions that represent school employees, including the largest — the Detroit Federation of Teachers. Officials from the teachers union declined to comment Friday until after the proposal could be presented to union members and voted on.

The district also sought input from parents, students, educators, and community members.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said there are a number of reasons the district is moving to start school early.

“One, we want to start teaching and learning earlier, because you just have more instructional time in anticipation of state assessments,” Vitti said.

Starting earlier would also mean the school year would end earlier — and there would be less time between when the state exams are given in the spring and the end of the school year.

“I’m trying to create a shorter window between testing and the end of school. After testing, the relevancy of the day-to-day instruction declines.”