District brings kids back from summer sooner

Inverness, Florida -- Chances are good your school district would love to bring your kids back to school much earlier. Like right now. There are some big advantages to it. But their hands are tied, by Florida law.

We found one district that's using a special exception and bringing students back to start the school year sooner.

Boys and girls gathered for a belly full of breakfast Wednesday morning before starting their senior year at Citrus High School. And it's an early start. Citrus County schools start almost two full weeks ahead of other districts in the Bay area.

Why so soon?

"Most districts would like to move it up," Citrus County Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel told me. "But as you know -- as well as I do… state legislators voted that 'here's when you will start school, you won't start any sooner than this.' And once we became a high-performing district, we were able to ask for a waiver."

A campaign by parents called Save Our Summers swept into the Florida Legislature almost 10 years ago. They got lawmakers to lock in school start times so they're always close to Labor Day. But a handful of "academically high-performing districts" don't have to follow that law.

What makes a district high-performing?

It must:

- Hold a district grade of "A" for two straight years

- Have no schools with an "F" grade

- Follow Florida's class size law

- Pass an audit

The earlier start time means Citrus County's school calendar matches up with the calendar at the College of Central Florida. So for high school students who want to get college credit, the process is much easier.

And here's the big thing: The Citrus County calendar lets the first semester end by Christmas. There's no more studying, or forgetting, over winter break for exams that would otherwise happen in January.

"When you talk to the kids this morning, there's not one kid complaining about starting early," Himmel said.

"And, at the end of May, our students are out -- while other districts do not get out until the middle of June. So, when we say we're 'cutting our summers,' our students are usually out a couple of weeks earlier."

Now, a few years into these early starts, the superintendent says she hopes her district won't ever go back.

"We will fight for that as long as we can," Himmel said.


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