Q&AZ: Why Are Arizona Schools Starting So Early?

By Mariana Dale
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - 8:13am
Updated: Tuesday, October 29, 2019 - 11:28am

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Taylor Peterson colors in a picture of a bear
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
Taylor Peterson starts his first day of kindergarden at Centennial Elementary School in the Higley Unified School District.

Through our Q&AZ reporting project, several of you asked why schools here resume in August instead of after Labor Day (Thanks, Rick Aylward, Valerie Lim and Stuart Gavzy!)

KJZZ researched the start dates of the state’s 30 largest school districts by enrollment and found that about 77,000 students will already be in school by Aug. 1.

Gilbert’s Higley Unified School District started July 22.

“I like it because it’s so hot outside that we’re kinda done swimming, so it’s time for school to start,” said mom Kathryn Peterson as she walked her son Taylor to his kindergarten classroom.

Inside, she hooked his Super Mario backpack over the back of his chair and got ready to say goodbye.

“OK, are you good?” Peterson asked.


“Have fun!”

Taylor started carefully coloring in the outline of a bear with a brown crayon.

Several years ago, the Higley Unified School District switched to a modified year-round schedule, which means longer breaks in the fall and spring in exchange for a shorter summer break.

“Opportunities for children to get extra support and extra help in fall break and spring break really leads to a more successful academic experience for all grade levels,” said Superintendent Mike Thomason.

Another benefit is that students have more time to prepare for standardized testing in May.

The Chandler Unified School District, which started one day after Higley, has followed a modified calendar since the 1990s.

District spokesman Terry Locke said the shorter summer helps students retain information that’s lost over a long summer break. Locke said a traditional school calendar had more to do with farming than education.

CNN reported rural school calendars were shaped by agriculture and students often had the fall and spring off to help with planting and harvesting.

The same article pointed out that schools in Georgia, Arkansas and Florida are among those that have adopted pre-Labor Day start days for school.

In 2015, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, a Republican from Gilbert, sponsored a bill that would have required Arizona public schools to start after Labor Day.

That bill was held in committees.

Legally Arizona school districts must have at least 180 days of school a year and a specific number of instructional minutes per day depending on the grade level, but can otherwise choose when they begin and end, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

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