AMITE — A series of meetings to discuss delaying future start dates for Tangipahoa Parish schools will begin later this month, but district officials already are hearing voices on both sides of the debate.
A parent-led petition to move the first day of school to after Labor Day because of the intense August heat had gathered nearly 6,000 signatures by Tuesday night, when the School Board ratified a recent change in the district’s dress code to allow all students to wear shorts.
“Thank you for responding so quickly and so appropriately,” Hammond parent Amy Brumfield said. “That was a huge move. We really appreciate it.”
Brumfield, speaking on behalf of petition organizer Carli Adams, urged the School Board to consider the potential utility savings, tourism boost and increased family time that could follow a later start to the school year.
This year, at least, school will start as originally scheduled, on Thursday.
Heith Huguet, of Loranger, said school officials should focus instead on the teachers, who are already overworked and underpaid and need the school holidays that likely would be more limited in a late-start school year.
Also, Tangipahoa is not an A-rated school district, Huguet said, and teachers need all the time they can get to prepare students for state testing.
Huguet said many of the people who have signed Adams’ petition don’t live in Tangipahoa Parish — some don’t even live in Louisiana — and even if they did, the total number of signers would account for less than 5 percent of the parish’s population.
“They do not live here. They do not vote here. They do not pay taxes here,” Huguet said. “This board was elected to represent its constituents.”
Board member Sandra Bailey Simmons said the Instructional Accountability and Support Committee, which she chairs, will meet at 4 p.m. Aug. 18 to discuss the topic further and hear input from parents, staff and others.
Cathy Conino, a school bus driver, said the meeting time would make it impossible for bus drivers to participate in the discussion.
Simmons said after the board meeting that she likely would move the committee meeting to 5 p.m., in the hopes of including more people, but couldn’t delay it further because the full board will meet at 6 p.m.
Simmons also said this would be only the first meeting of several that district officials will hold on the topic.
The first meeting will include a presentation from district officials on the factors affecting the school calendar — namely, state testing schedules and earlier first-semester finals, board President Brett Duncan said after Tuesday’s meeting.
Duncan said district officials likely would present a series of options for changing the school calendar, as well as opinion surveys for parents and teachers, at future meetings.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.