A farewell to freedom

July, we hardly knew thee. In less than one week’s time, Beth will join thousands of school age children in the annual event known as “the first day of school.” Like years past, it will be a time of sorrow in The Kauffman Household (version 2.2.1).

As many of you know, the school year starts really freaking early in parts of Florida. If you think we’ve got it bad, our neighboring county is starting school today! In the rush to get as much of the school year wedged in during Hurricane Season as possible, many school districts are starting up during the first week of August. (Full disclosure: I think the school systems are starting earlier to maximize the number of teaching days before the FCAT… but I’m going to REALLY try hard not to get started on the FCAT.)

Well friends, an unexpected bit of good news surfaced in the Florida Legislature this year, by way of House Bill 7087 (signed into law by the Governor earlier this year). Among other things, this bill limits school districts to starting the school year NO EARLIER THAN two weeks before Labor Day. What does this mean to us? Simply put, it means two weeks. Instead of starting August 8th, school would be starting August 21st – if the law took effect this year rather than 2007. (It’s almost three weeks if you have the misfortune to live in Hillsborough County.) It also puts more summer in summer vacation. This year about forty-three percent of summer vacation took place during spring. Inconceivable? Outrageous? Sacrilegious? All of the above? Sure, we’ve all got a soft spot in our hearts for Hurricane Days, but Hurricane Season doesn’t peak until late September anyway. There’s still plenty of opportunity built in there.

There are those of you who will say that it’s all a wash anyway… after all, won’t the school year just end later? Sure it will. But I ask you this: what of tradition? Sometimes there’s a reason why “we always did it that way.” I remember when summer vacation trudged right through the hottest month of summer… those brutally hot, middle days of August when you couldn’t walk in the street without shoes, unless you liked third degree burns. The only thing that made those days bearable was our freedom; that and the neighbor’s pool. Now imagine my daughter in the weeks to come: trudging through the peak of the heat, Florida summer in its prime, further weighed down by the yoke of academic responsibility.

It breaks my heart.

Here’s the “totally whack” conspiracy theory portion of this entry. Yes, I’m going to get started on the FCAT now. Assuming that school districts were starting earlier in the year in order to get in more instruction time prior to the FCAT, the Legislature could have mandated that the testing authority (CTB/McGraw-Hill**) give the test later in the year (to my knowledge, they haven’t). That would kinda force school districts to start up and run later (in the year) too, wouldn’t it? After all, it would be difficult at best to end school the first week of May, then call the students back a week later to take the FCAT (assuming they pushed the test date back). Now imagine that YOU are the Florida Legislature. Imagine that YOU really like the idea of privatizing education, and YOU were still stinging over the legal challenges to your partial privatization scheme – whereby schools deemed to be failing, as measured by FCAT results, got less funding and lost students to private schools. Setting up more schools to “fail” by limiting their time to teach the FCAT would prime the pump for a BIG FAT I TOLD YOU SO for your voters, wouldn’t it? In the immortal words of Bill and Ted: “Dude, that’s totally awesome!”

I’m not quite that cynical. I don’t think our legislature is (quite) that nefarious. It was a fun mental exercise though.

** A private company contracted to administer the FCAT by the State of Florida Department of Education.

Give the gift of words.