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Op-ed: Just a matter of time before year-round school debate begins

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Op-ed: Just a matter of time before year-round school debate begins
By Matt Harvey, The Exponent Telegram

For as long as most of us can remember, summer’s unofficial end is tied to the beginning of school.

Five or 10 years ago, that would have meant having about a month of “summer” left. But the past few years, the end of July has equated to having just a few days left.

Summer today also has a lot of organized activities that weren’t available 30 or 40 years ago, from lots of team sports events in June to plenty of academic and extracurricular camps in both July and August.

All this has some in West Virginia — and elsewhere — calling for year-round school.

There is certainly merit to such a proposal, especially for the most mountainous counties of West Virginia, such as Tucker.

In most years, schoolchildren in these counties are at a big disadvantage because they miss school repeatedly during the winter months.

And that’s aggravated because there’s no way to predict when inclement weather days will hit. Teachers might start on a difficult concept and get a few days into it, only to watch a big snowstorm wipe out the next five days of class. That means at least a day of refreshing kids on the concept before being able to move on.

For these counties, taking off from Christmas through the end of January might make sense.

But there are problems with this idea, too.

Teachers are required to receive continuing education credits. And most of the time, this will have to be done when school’s on a break.

In the January scenario, will groups want to hold education seminars in the middle of the winter? And if they do, will educators be able to get there?

Summer break also has been a time when teachers could make some extra money in a part-time job. That’s much less likely to happen when there’s a year-round school calendar.

There’s also, however, the issue of retention of education. Just as kids lose knowledge they’ve gained when they miss days during the winter, this can occur on an even more universal basis during summer break, some studies have found.

At some point soon, the West Virginia Department of Education and the West Virginia Legislature will have to make some tough decisions on this.

It will be important that they get as much input as possible from parents and educators all across the state before making any decisions.

And it probably would be wise to keep as many options open as possible.

One thought that comes to mind is how state lawmakers have given certain cities great carte blanche through home rule.

The thinking is that each city is unique, and therefore each one should have the ability to individually address certain issues.

Maybe, for example, giving local school districts much more discretion for issues such as the year-round calendar will make sense.

After all, many parts of West Virginia’s eastern mountains are over 2,000 feet, while here in North Central West Virginia, we’re lucky to be pushing elevation of 1,000. That difference is massive when it comes to weather patterns.

This isn’t an easy issue. But, times are changing. It seems as though this is an inevitable discussion, so here’s hoping that when it comes up, it’s treated with the gravity it deserves.