The earnest origins of Labor Day
After an unusually cool and gray summer, the South Sound is finally basking in a pretty nice stretch of late-season weather. August registered its warmest day Wednesday under brilliant blue skies. The Washington State Fair opens Friday morning, with free admission for anyone 18 and younger.
It hardly seems fair that thousands of Pierce County students must soldier through the royal bummer of a shortened summer. They’re sentenced to pre-Labor Day back-to-school routines, while scores of their peers in neighboring districts enjoy one last hurrah.
It’s been said that the early bird gets the worm, and for kids in the Lakewood, Parkland, Gig Harbor and Steilacoom-DuPont areas, life might feel rather wormy this week.
Parkland students are the earliest back-to-schoolers, having returned to classrooms Tuesday. The Franklin Pierce School District follows the goofiest, most herky-jerky calendar in the region; after three days of class, students are released for a four-day holiday weekend. How can they develop any academic momentum that way?
Some kids, parents and employers may argue that there ought to be a law ordering schools not to resume until after Labor Day — the state of Michigan actually has one — but we’d settle for a region-wide awakening of common sense.
Tacoma, the county’s largest district, is savvy enough to wait until next week. The same goes for Puyallup, Bethel, Sumner-Bonney Lake, Fife and Orting — communities whose seasonal rhythms align with the end-of-harvest hootenany known as the Puyallup Fair.
When the fair wisely shifted its opening to Labor Day weekend starting three years ago, it was a clear signpost of when summer is supposed to end.
Mind you, coping with the early back-to-school blues is not unique to our state or region. In Colorado this week, parents and educators rallied in Denver for later start dates (and air conditioning) after a sweltering first week of the school year.
In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu has promoted the work of a “Save our Summers” commission; it found that starting school after Labor Day would spur tourism, increase state revenue, let students extend seasonal jobs that employers need filled and allow families to spend more leisure time together.
In Michigan, whose late-start law went into effect in 2007, a study found that hotel room bookings went up by more than 40,000 that year and tourism revenue climbed by nearly $5 million.
Families can be fickle, of course, and those eager to start school after Labor Day are the same folks who will already be turning restless to get out of school come Memorial Day. But let’s be honest: What time of year in Washington promises better vacation/staycation conditions: mid June or late August?
State law requires 180 instructional days for grades 1-12. It seems reasonable for all districts to meet that requirement with a calendar that starts after Labor Day, allowing for the rare Washington snowstorm and (fingers crossed) even more rare teacher walkout.
Education equity is a subject that’s caused no small amount of handwringing among parents, politicians and Supreme Court justices. Here’s a small step toward a level playing field — and the best part is that nobody has to monkey with their school levy formulas to achieve it.