How does the early start of the school year affect tourism?

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) – The school year is already underway in many West Michigan school districts.

A growing number are getting state approval to return before Labor Day. This has some concerns about the potential impact on tourism.

Steve Matthews, Ed.D., superintendent of Rockford Public Schools, said starting before Labor Day allows for extra and longer breaks during the year.

“It’s beneficial for us to be back before Labor Day,” Matthews said. “This gives us some flexibility in your school calendar. You must have a certain number of hours and days. The state requires it, and returning before that gives you some flexibility in planning your calendar.”

Students returned to class Monday in the district and have a four-day week to start the year.

A law requires districts to start after Labor Day, but more high school districts are applying for waivers from the state.

Individual school districts may opt out, but nearly all public school districts in West Michigan start classes before the holiday. Matthews said the early start also allows staff and students to ease into the school year.

“This allows us to have some half days for professional development for our staff. That allows us to create some time for us in February for a mid-winter break for example or … to extend maybe a little bit, a day or two for spring break,” Matthews said.

Erin Murphy, marketing director of the West Michigan Tourism Association, said early school starts have an impact, but tourism still remains strong, especially with many districts offering long weekends.

“We’ve always seen in the tourism industry a decline in tourism and travel,” Murphy said. “Having a long weekend and just that extra day off on Friday helps to boost some of the tourism as people feel a bit more comfortable getting out and exploring a bit.”

One thing she worries about is high school-aged workers providing jobs to fill many of those seasonal summer jobs.

“Working in those tourism-related organizations and positions has been extremely beneficial, so you know in the long run it’s a bit of a worry starting school earlier. Their availability will decrease a little bit,” Murphy said.

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