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Detroit district proposes to start school a week before Labor Day

Students raise their hand in a classroom.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District could join a growing number of school districts and charter schools across Michigan that have sought permission to start the school year earlier.

Emily Elconin for Chalkbeat

Detroit school district students and staff may start the next school year earlier than expected.

A tentative calendar for 2022-23 sets Monday, Aug. 29 — a week before Labor Day — as the first day of school. The last day of school would fall during the third week of June.

The district typically begins the school year the Tuesday after Labor Day.

The tentative calendar was presented Friday to the Detroit Public Schools Community District school board’s finance committee. The calendar would need the approval of the full school board, which likely will consider it during a May 10 meeting. It is a partial calendar and helps families plan for the first and last day of school, as well as winter break, mid-winter break, spring break, and parent-teacher conferences. Other dates are still being ironed out in negotiations with unions.

The calendar change would mark the first pre-Labor Day start of school for the school district in at least 15 years. A 2005 Michigan law championed by the tourism industry bars schools from starting before Labor Day. But a growing number of school districts and charter schools across the state have sought waivers from the Michigan Department of Education, and legislation introduced in the Michigan House last year sought to repeal the law altogether.

The district is in contract negotiations with the Detroit Federation of Teachers and other school unions. Under Michigan law, school districts have the right to establish the starting date of their school year without union approval, but other aspects of the calendar are subject to collective bargaining. 

“The full calendar is still being negotiated with DFT and our other unions,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told Chalkbeat. “We continue to bargain in good faith, but it has reached a point where our employees and families need direction on when the school year will start and when longer vacation will take place.” 

The earlier start date, he added, could provide the district with more days to recruit students for enrollment ahead of Fall Count Day on Oct. 30.

In 2019, Vitti won board approval for a similar change to the calendar, saying it would give students a jump start on learning. But an outcry within the teachers union and a stalemate in negotiations between the district and union leaders ultimately caused the board to revert to a post-Labor Day start.

Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said the union is “willing to try this pre-Labor Day start and see how it works.” The significant factor, he said, would be whether the early start leads to absenteeism at the start of the school year. 

“We’re obviously concerned about attendance and making sure students actually show up regardless of when we start school,” Martin said. “One thing that we don’t want is for there to be an issue with absenteeism because of the change in start date.”

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

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