Slimantics: A better idea for the school year


Slim Smith



Today, I am narrowing the focus of my column to the graduating Class of 2021. I suppose their parents may find this relevant, too, along with anyone else who might have some interest in living long enough to see them graduate.


As it stands right now, students from kindergarten to college will return to actual classrooms in a few weeks. Don't get used to it, though. By the looks of things now, schools and colleges will be shutting down almost as quickly as they open, and schools will have to rely on online learning and hope students will be able to keep up their studies.


In a state like Mississippi, where thousands of children still don't have access to broadband, an awful lot of Mississippi school children are going to be left behind. I've yet to hear anyone explain how a special education student, who generally needs one-on-one attention, is supposed to learn online. It seems virtually impossible.



With coronavirus cases still sweeping the county, the idea of returning to school in a few weeks is preposterous. It's going to be a disaster, unmitigated chaos.


I don't have a solution, but I do have a plan, which is something that cannot be said of either our President or our governor.


My goal for the class of 2021 is to make sure you are able to attend graduation ceremonies in 2021 without having to attend a funeral service, too.


It's a pretty simple plan, really, and I'm surprised no one has thought of it.


Forget about school for the rest of the year. Use that time to study independently.


The school year will start instead in January. For you seniors, it will simply mean that instead of graduating in May, you'll graduate in December. In fact, that will be true of all future classes.


The school year will mirror the calendar year.


As for class schedules, they'll remain pretty much the same, but instead of beginning a school year one year and finishing it the next, the class schedule will simply follow the calendar.


Only minor adjustments will be required. The Legislature will have to figure out a way to provide funding that begins in January instead of July. A few sports seasons will have to be altered.


After a few years, it will make so much sense that you will wonder why schools ever operated any other way.


Throughout history, permanent change has often been dictated by a particular circumstance. (Think air travel after 9/11, for example)


As it was with 9/11, COVID-19 is likely to alter how we live, work, play. I suggest we add education to that mix by aligning the school year with the calendar.


What that will allow is for five more months to see where we are headed with the virus. It will be five more months to work on getting broadband access to more children. We'll be five months closer to a COVID-19 vaccine. It will be five more months for our nation to get serious about stopping the spread of the virus and bring new cases down to something approaching a manageable level.


There's no guarantee, of course, but starting the school year in January at least gives us some reasonable hope that once the school begins it can continue without having to shut down because of an outbreak.


Will we be better positioned to start school in January than we are in a few weeks?


I'll take that bet.


At this point, we've got little to lose by making the change.



Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]


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