This year, back to school season is coming up even sooner for a record number of Michigan's districts.
Since 2000, state law has required classes to start after the Labor Day holiday, but 123 districts have obtained waivers to start classes earlier. Proponents of the law have hailed it as a boon for Michigan’s tourism industry, because it gives students and their families a few more weeks to travel.
School districts can request those waivers from the state Department of Education, so long as those requests line up with existing exemptions in the law.
Nearly half of the districts that obtained waivers this year are starting classes early to align their calendars with partner colleges or universities, in order to allow students to enroll in so-called early-middle college programs.
“We’re seeing a lot of districts nowadays that are offering early-middle college programs, which give students a chance to earn associate degrees, or certificates along with their high school diplomas,” said Michigan Department of Education spokesperson Bill Disessa.
Other reasons districts have obtained waivers: they've moved to a year-round calendar, or they're among the state's lowest-performing districts, or they offer “summer learning options” for the entire student body.
Disessa says there's also been an increase in the number of Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) that have sought permission to start classes earlier than Labor Day. ISDs oversee smaller, local school districts. While individual districts have to reapply for waivers every school year, ISDs have to reapply every three years. Districts under the umbrella of an ISD with a waiver have the option to start classes early, or not.
“[It is] a big trend,” Disessa said. “Each ISD has several districts in it. Sometimes those are very large districts.”
Of the 123 districts with Labor Day waivers this year, 24 are ISDs.
You can read the most recent list of school districts with Labor Day waivers, and the reasons for their exemption here. Michigan Department of Education officials say the list is not comprehensive, and is subject to change as districts continue to apply.