May 19, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
Hingham Public Schools students will begin their classes before Labor Day this year, a departure from the traditional post-Labor Day start.
The first day of school for Grades 1-12 is Monday, Aug. 31. Pre-schoolers and kindergarten students will start Wednesday, Sept. 2.
In the meantime, a Recovery Response Advisory Committee has been formed consisting of school personnel, town officials, the public safety departments, public health officials, and parents to begin planning "for any and all scenarios for the fall," according to Supt. of Schools Paul Austin.
The committee will meet for the first time this week. "Whatever challenges face us in the future, the district is dedicated to being fully prepared to meet the needs of our students," he said.
Austin explained to the Hingham Anchor today the reasoning behind the decision to start school earlier than in the past.
Labor Day is later this year than usual, falling on Sept. 7. "Thus, a start after Labor Day would mean that students would not begin school until Sept. 8," Austin said, following last night's school committee meeting, when the decision was made. This has been a topic of discussion at previous school committee meetings as well.
Other factors in making the decision include Gov. Charlie Baker's proposal to declare Sept. 14 (the postponed date for the Boston Marathon) a local holiday in Boston -- which requires the approval of the legislature -- and the planned closing of the Hingham Public Schools for the Nov. 3 Election Day.
Per Massachusetts law, school officials are required to schedule 180 student days and five additional emergency/snow days in the school calendar, for a total of 185 school days.
"If the district started school after Labor Day, included the additional [proposed] Sept. 14 holiday, and closed the schools for Election Day, the 185th day of school would be June 29, 2021," Austin said. "As schools are not permitted to extend beyond June 30 of any year, there would simply be no room to accommodate additional days if needed due to emergency closures."
Austin further noted that both he and the school committee received requests from parents to consider a pre-Labor Day beginning of school "due to the unprecedented and extended Covid-19 closure."
Finally, although the agreement between the Hingham School Committee and the Hingham Education Association (HEA) specifically states that teachers will not start the school year earlier than the Wednesday before Labor Day (with students beginning classes after Labor Day), the school committee and administration and the HEA have agreed to a one-year exception, collectively agreeing to a potential start before Labor Day 2020, according to Austin.
"We recognize that a change to the calendar is not ideal for many families, school staff, and community members who are accustomed to a post-Labor Day start," Austin said. "However, given the circumstances of the late Labor Day holiday, the additional days of required closure, and the amount of time students have lost due to Covid-19, we believe it is in the best interests of students to begin the school year before Labor Day."
Austin acknowledged that there are "undoubtedly many questions remaining about what school will look like in the fall. It should be noted that while the official start of school will be Aug. 31 for Grades 1-12 and Sept. 2 for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners, it is simply too early to tell if that will be in-person (in school) or remote learning, or a combination of the two."