It is time. It is past time. It has been time for many years now to admit that public schools should hold off until after the Lorain County Fair to begin classes.
Back-to-school bingo is played every August as districts take wildly different approaches to the fall calendar. For example, Amherst students will return to classes the week of Aug. 19 while Wellington students will head back Sept. 2.
There seems very little reason to rush the return of school. I grew up in Upstate New York, where classes traditionally kicked off the Tuesday following Labor Day each year. It seemed to have few drawbacks and match the timetables of colleges and universities. Of course the late start meant graduation was stretched into late June, so there’s a downside, but it’s still a half-dozen of one or six of the other situation.
Here in Lorain County, 4-H is a big deal. Agriculture remains an important part of the landscape and it’s not just among rural districts. We easily find Amherst teens taking part in fair activities each summer. Even Elyria has a strong showing at the livestock corrals and pens.
There is an important educational component offered by Junior Fair activities, and not just in the realms of horticulture and animal husbandry. Character education is evident too as young men and women learn responsibility, compassion, and organization in the course of raising their animals.
The fair also provides much-needed cultural exposure. A couple of years ago, one of my reporters wrote a story about city students who visited Wellington to learn about where their food originates. We were unsurprised to hear more than one child say they had never before seen a cow or pig first-hand.
Those are known quantities for many students in the southern part of the county, where Midview, Firelands, and Wellington school system wait out the fair.
As a general rule, the farther north you travel, the earlier the school year starts, and that’s where I’m advocating change. (It’s not an absolute rule. Oberlin and Sheffield-Sheffield Lake wait until Aug. 26 to resume classes. To the east, Columbia wait until Aug. 27 and Keystone, counter-intuitively, jumps to a start Aug. 17 before giving kids time off during Fair Week.) Districts such as Amherst, Avon, Avon Lake, Clearview, Lorain, and North Ridgeville — all early starters — should rethink their pre-fair stances.
Of course, nothing is going to change the Ohio High School Athletic Association schedule. Sports practices will commence Aug. 1 each year. But many of our local teams practice and play season games without regard to the classroom schedule already, so back-to-school start dates aren’t really linked anyway.
There is nothing new to this debate. States across the Midwest have battled over the school-versus-fair question for decades. It wasn’t that long ago that Ohio had a later start.
I think it’s time to return to that idea.