11K people are not happy about Cobb schools starting earlier than ever

The first day of class for metro Atlanta schools really has gotten earlier. Cobb County students go back to school July 31. Atlanta's first day is Aug. 1. DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett start Aug. 7.

It’s too hot. It’s ruining my summer with my child. It’s way too early to start classes, and the school board is to blame.

These are among the reasons more than 11,700 people gave when signing an online petition disapproving of the Cobb County School District's July 31 start date this year and its trend of bringing children back into classrooms earlier and earlier.

July 31 marks not only the earliest day most any major metro Atlanta public school system goes back to school this year, but it's also the earliest in recent Cobb history.

Ten years ago in 2007, the first day of school was Aug. 13.

This year's start of classes is only one day earlier than last year, but the fact that kids will be back at desks in the month of July is a symbol for dissenters that this direction is a negative one.

Kyle Rex organizes his supplies during the first day of classes at Davis Elementary School in Marietta on Aug. 4, 2014. Cobb schools are starting five days later this year.
Kyle Rex organizes his supplies during the first day of classes at Davis Elementary School in Marietta on Aug. 4, 2014. Cobb schools are starting five days later this year.

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

“Everyone keeps saying it’s one day earlier, but it’s just been a transition the last few years. And where does it end?” said Beth Guerra, a Marietta attorney with a rising 8th-grader at Simpson Middle School.

A school district spokeswoman declined to comment about the petition, instead directing The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to the board’s process of picking the start date.

Cobb sets school start dates two years in advance, and two school years at a time.

Donna Lowry, Cobb schools spokeswoman, said there were two chances for people to voice their opinion about the start date: the public comments period at both the school board’s work session and the Sept. 17, 2015 meeting when the board approved the calendars with a vote of 6 to 1.

Cobb County Board of Education vice chairman Scott Sweeney voted against the early start date. (AJC file photo)
Cobb County Board of Education vice chairman Scott Sweeney voted against the early start date. (AJC file photo)

Vice Chair Scott Sweeney was the lone opposing board member, according to minutes from the meeting.

Sweeney said by email Wednesday that he has “consistently opposed an early start date” but did not respond to requests for comment explaining his disapproval of the earlier start date.

Though Cobb’s start date of the 31st is drawing ire, that’ll be day four of classes for some metro Atlanta students.

Charles R. Drew Charter School, a sought-after spot for students under the Atlanta Public Schools system, brings its students back July 26. Teachers are already busy, as they reported to school July 19.

KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools runs eight charter schools in APS and is having its students also come back to class July 31.

Kinnari Patel-Smyth, KIPP’s executive director, said its schools have always started class a few days before others.

“The extra time we have with new students provides an opportunity to introduce staff and students, gets students acquainted with their schools, provides them time to complete assessments, and builds community,” Patel-Smyth said. “We have found this time to be very important.”

Over the past decade, KIPP has added fall and winter breaks, along with an extended Thanksgiving break to include the whole week.

The state mandates that all districts must have 180 days for school, but it is up to the school systems to make their own schedule.

Cobb has an extra week break in September and another in February, unlike other large public school systems in metro Atlanta.

Many of those who signed the Cobb petition, some of whom come from as far away as Charlotte and Philadelphia, said they’d rather have a longer summer than these weeklong breaks in the middle of the year.

“It’s a hardship on parents,” Guerra said. “If I don’t take the week off, what do I do with my 13-year-old?”

She refers to the breaks as “forced vacation.”

Stephanie Coston, who works in marketing and branding, has a child going into 7th grade at Lost Mountain Middle and has noted the start date creep closer to July during her 21 years of having a child in the Cobb school system.

She said her children used their summers to learn instruments, enjoy family time and let their brains relax after the rigors of study.

“The sustained stress-free enjoyment of summer and the things that they can learn as young people over their summer breaks are just as important during the school days they have,” she said.

And the more you move the date up, some say, the closer you get to the dead heat of summer.

Both mothers said they’ve had panting children amble through the front door after a sweaty bus ride.

“It’s hot in August and these school buses don’t have air conditioning,” Coston said.

She’s right.

Lowry confirmed that only 225 of Cobb’s 300 special education buses have AC. That means the district’s 925 standard buses can be saunas on wheels some July and early August days.

Mayssam Daniel moved to Cobb three years ago and has a rising second-grader at Kennesaw Elementary School.

She’s also concerned about the heat.

“The recess will be like hell to them,” said Daniel. “My son’s health is more important than anything else.”

Daniel, a designer who works at a furniture store, said the early start date also makes it difficult to get her son to bed at 9 p.m. when the sun is still out.

Daniel said family plans to visit Lebanon, where she’s from, didn’t even make it off the ground because of the early start date.

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She doesn't expect a radical change less than two weeks out, but she still signed the petition.

The petition included a bold note: “Some of us have considered holding our children back from the first few days of school as an act of resistance to what we see as unnecessary, if not hostile, encroachment into our families’ needs.”

There were no numbers to back up how many, if any, would be taking that step.

Guerra didn’t say she would keep her 8th-grader out of school but said she will try to do what’s best for her child.

“I hope I can make it through the next five years and put this behind me,” she said.

You can take an early peek at your student's school in the AJC's Ultimate Atlanta School Guide to see everything from how much experience its teachers have to its graduation rates and safety record.

Stay focused from the start, Atlanta's top students say, and perhaps you too will graduate at the top of your class.

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