Why more California schools are starting the year in early August

Martha Sanderson greets her kindergarten class on the the first day of school at Westside Elementary, Aug. 13, 2015.
Martha Sanderson greets her kindergarten class on the the first day of school at Westside Elementary, Aug. 13, 2015.
Heather Martino

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Remember when the new school year always started after Labor Day? That traditional end of the summer is now mostly a thing of the past. 

Twenty school districts in Los Angeles County start school this week, including schools in Alhambra, Glendale, Palmdale, Pasadena, and Pomona. All but four of the county’s 80 school districts start school in August, according to the L.A. County Office of Education.

“It’s been a difficult change for us, of course, like any change," said Laurie Baccus, assistant superintendent at Whittier School District. Their first day for all students is Aug. 16. "But in the end, I’d say people feel that it’s a better way to lay out the school year."

At first, Baccus said, parents and teachers complained that they couldn’t wrap their head around an August without vacation.

But moving up the start date accomplishes a number of educational goals. It allows students and teachers to finish the first semester before winter break. It also gives students more time to prepare for state standardized tests and Advanced Placement exams. 

The calendar change has also allowed some school districts to extend their winter breaks, which lets them schedule catch-up classes during that time.

But what about the heat?

Palm Springs Unified moved its first day of school to this Wednesday. Temperatures are expected to be over 100 degrees.

“That’s normal for this time of year. We’ve had days in the past couple of weeks that have been up to 117, 118,” said school district spokeswoman Joan Boiko.

The earlier start does increase the school district’s electric bill about $6,500 more per day in August, mostly in air conditioning costs, she said.

It doesn’t cool down in Palm Springs until late September, she said, so an earlier start makes little difference.

But Palm Springs, like other school districts, expects the change to make a difference in kids' learning, especially among those who now have more time to study for Advanced Placement tests in May and who are making up classes during the winter break.