How early starts affect the school year, tourism

Rockford, Mich. (WOOD) — The school year has already started in many West Michigan school districts.

A growing number are getting state approval to return before Labor Day. This has some worried about the potential impact on tourism.

Steve Matthews, Ed.D., superintendent of Rockford Public Schools, said starting before Labor Day allows for more and longer breaks throughout the year.

“It’s beneficial for us to be back before Labor Day,” Matthews said. “It gives us some increased flexibility in your school calendar. You have to have certain hours and days. The state requires that and going back earlier than that gives you some flexibility to plan your calendar.”

Students in the district returned to class on Monday and have four-day weeks to start the year.

A law requires districts to start after Labor Day, but many middle school districts are applying for a waiver from the state.

Individual school districts can opt out, but nearly all public school districts in West Michigan start classes before the holidays. Matthews said the early start allows staff and students to transition into the school year more easily.

“It allows us to give our staff some half days for professional development. It allows us to create some time for mid-winter break in February or … extend a little, a day or two, for spring break,” Matthews said.

Erin Murphy, marketing director of the West Michigan Tourist Association, said elementary schools have an impact but tourism remains strong, especially with many districts offering long-weekends.

“We’ve always seen a weakness in tourism and travel in the tourism industry,” Murphy said. “The long weekend and that extra day off on Friday helps promote some tourism as people feel a little more comfortable getting out and exploring a little bit.”

One thing she worries about is the labor high school-age workers provide to fill many of those seasonal summer jobs.

“Working in those tourism-related organizations and positions has been very helpful so you know for a long time that starting school is a concern. Their availability will be a little less,” Murphy said.

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