Save South Carolina Summers is:
A grassroots organization seeking to establish, protect, and maintain a more traditional school calendar for SC public schools, thereby preserving June, July and August for non-classroom learning experiences and family time.
As parents, grandparents, and teachers, we strive to raise healthy, happy, well-rounded children. You've often heard the expression, "children are our future." We believe the key ingredients of a successful adulthood for our children are a combination of education, childhood experiences, and family environment.
We must constantly strive to keep these elements in balance. To achieve this, we must set aside time for each, and we must recognize the importance of "down time" as well for our growing children. Preserving a traditional summer break for our children, our families, and our dedicated teachers is essential. Unfortunately, early start dates and other types of modified calendars continue to threaten this valuable time, disrupting the balance we seek, yet providing no proven academic benefit. Many parents feel that early school start dates are really about test scores and not about academic achievement. School administrators are placing an unwarranted emphasis on test scores at the expense of other important childhood and family experiences. As parents, our focus is on raising children . . . not statistics.
Success in 2006
In 2006, through the combined effort of thousands of parents and teachers across the state, Save SC Summers was successful in influencing school start date legislation. Several bills were introduced and thoroughly debated in the state Senate and House of Representatives with regard to school calendars. Parents, teachers, business leaders, school administrators, and the education establishment were all given the opportunity to provide input on the issues at hand as our elected officials listened to both sides of the debate. School districts argued that all school calendar related decisions should be left up to them and "local control" should prevail. Parents (and many teachers) disagreed, saying their concerns about increasingly earlier start dates were being ignored by their local school boards and administrators.
Parents were frustrated that their preferences were taking a back seat to the preferences of school administrators and they felt powerless to influence change at the local level. August was slipping away as a summer month as start dates continued creeping earlier and earlier, with South Carolina's earliest schools starting around August 4th, their teachers returning in July! South Carolina's number one industry, tourism, was taking a beating thanks to early starts, and this meant less tax revenues for the state.
Though some districts were ending school somewhat earlier, PACT testing in mid-May put a limit to early end dates, and districts made up the rest of the time by padding holidays and adding extra miscellaneous days off throughout the school year. This put a burden on working families who had difficulty finding childcare during these frequent breaks and were often forced to take time off work. Parents argued that summers offered enriching childcare options that were not available other times of the year and they were not happy about losing August as a holiday month. Other arguments centered around the scheduling of semester exams before the winter break, the need for extra PACT testing preparation, the oppressive heat of August and its impact on district utility bills, and also the negative affect that early starts were having on the state's economy.
Save SC Summers parents and teachers lobbied their legislators through phone calls and e-mails, asking the state to establish an "earliest start date" for South Carolina public schools to prevent the further backslide of the school year into summer. Save SC Summers supporters asked for help because of a genuine concern for the children of our state. Supporters cited a long list of reasons why an adequate summer break was needed by their families. Many saw chances for educational activities outside of a classroom and opportunities for coveted family time dwindling away. Others were in dire financial straits and depended on working youth to help support their families. Daycare expenses were lower over one long extended break, especially for those who qualified for special scholarships to camps, music lessons, etc. Some cited health hazards involving athletes who practice in intense July heat and children who ride buses or sit in classrooms that bake in the sun. The reasons are too numerous to list here, but all stay true to the Save SC Summers principle of putting children and families first.
Responding to their constituents, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H4429. This bill also won over two thirds support in the Senate and in June of 2006, Governor Sanford officially signed it into law. This law represents a compromise between traditional Labor Day starts and those of early August. It establishes the third Monday in August as the earliest start date for South Carolina public schools while still allowing districts the ability to determine end dates, length of holidays, exam dates and all other calendar related decisions, thus maintaining a large degree of local control. The law also exempts individual schools on a year-round format, allows for certain weather-related waivers and goes into effect the fall of 2007, providing ample time for planning.
Parents and teachers across the state rejoiced at their success! Unfortunately, we could not rest on our laurels for long. School administrators and superintendents, still smarting from their defeat, were determined to regain their lost power. In 2007, several bills were introduced with the intent of undermining and, in effect, nullifying the new school calendar law before it even went into effect. Again, the opposition was determined to disregard parents' preferences and push their own agenda. Fortunately, these bills never made it out of committee.
Today, Save SC Summers is positioned to monitor any legislative attempts to overturn or weaken the law that we worked so hard to achieve. Unfortunately, the opposition is equally determined to overturn the law and we must remain vigilant in our cause. Our supporters believe that a child's education does not end when PACT testing is over. In fact, the way some may choose to define education is part of the problem. If you define education as a score on an exam, then that alone becomes your focus and your goal. We believe education is an ongoing process that includes opportunities for children to apply what they have learned in their everyday lives and to experience life in addition to studying it. We know that not all learning occurs in a classroom. In the words of Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus, "You cannot create experience, you must undergo it." Educational trips and jobs provide young people with "hands-on" opportunities that often lead to lifetime interests or occupations. All students need time to be with family and friends in informal settings where social skills can be honed. Childhood creativity is often the product of boredom and the result of an unburdened mind. Children are our heritage, and their future largely depends on the decisions that we, as adults, make for their lives. Balance is the key.
2007 promises to be an important year for the school calendar law. Change is always resisted until it begins to feel like the norm again and we anticipate the occasional bump in the road. In all likelihood, our opposition will use these "bumps" to try to turn people against the legislation. Think of all the "problems" they are likely to come up with. We must stay diligent in our efforts to protect our hard-earned legislation. Mid August is early enough for schools to begin.
We anticipate challenges to our legislation in the General Assembly this year as well, but we will continue to fight for our children's summers with your help. We hope you will join us in defending and protecting the school calendar law in the years ahead. Without it, traditional summers may become a novelty of the past.