DPS: Should district push back first day of school to September to avoid the heat?

Update below: Today -- gloriously breezy today! -- Denver Public Schools students will finally get a respite from the oppressive heat that has marked the end of August. And since most city schools don't have air-conditioning, many parents and school district officials have been left wondering: Should school start in mid-August, when the temperature can still be sweltering? Or should it start later?

The topic was the subject of a note sent last week to parents by DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg. The subject? "Too Darn Hot."

I would imagine that I'm not the only one who's been haunted by a particular Cole Porter tune this week, and I know our staff and students in our older buildings without air conditioning are equally haunted by those three words: too darn hot.

A group calling itself "Concerned DPS Parents" has co-opted those words and used them to start an online petition called "Too Darn Hot to Learn!" It urges the DPS school board and Boasberg to delay the start of school until after Labor Day. As of this writing, 82 people had signed it, including Nikole Bruns Carey, who left the following comment:

Both my kids' schools are HOT this time of year and COOL all through June. Please change the school schedule to reflect Colorado's climate as urban youth need not have the same months off as farm-kids!

In his note, Boasberg hints that he'd be open to the idea and suggests that it's teachers who are thwarting the effort. Is that true? We've put in a call to the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and will update this post when we hear back. In the meantime, here's how Boasberg explained his position:

I appreciate the idea of moving back the start of school until after Labor Day. As you know, this has been a topic of discussion for some years in the district. When we polled our employees in 2007, they were overwhelmingly against it. We tried again in 2008, when the Democratic National Convention in late August posed considerable logistical hurdles for an August start, and our teachers voted very strongly in favor of keeping the mid-August start rather than going to early September. As a parent and a DPS leader, I appreciate the merits of a September start date, but the surveys make clear our employees' preference to continue to structure their summers around the school year ending in late-May end and starting again in mid-August. (Some of it may also be due to the fact that all our neighboring districts also start in mid-August.)

I would certainly be open to having another conversation about it. In the meantime, we are working hard with our facilities group at providing whatever relief we can in our classrooms and keeping our fingers crossed for next week.

What do you think, dear readers? Should DPS push back the first day of school?

Update, 3:30 p.m.: We just spoke to Henry Roman, president of the DCTA teachers union. He disagrees with Boasberg that it's teachers who've been pushing to start school in August, pointing out that the 2008 survey Boasberg referenced was completed by parents, community members and students as well.

"I never got the sense that it was our teachers that said no," Roman says. "It was the whole community that was not that interested in that option at that time."

But now, the opinions may be a-changin'. "As I've been visiting schools now, it seems that teachers are willing to entertain a different schedule," Roman says.

It also seems as though they -- and their kids -- are melting in the heat, he says. Today, the DCTA sent a letter to Boasberg, asking him to address the situation immediately. The way Roman sees it, there could be several short-term solutions, including buying fans for every classroom or releasing students early on hot days.

As for long-term solutions, Roman says it may be time to revise the school calendar. "The interest is out there," he says. The DCTA plans to formally poll teachers and bring that data to the school district. Until then, teachers may just have to wish for clouds.

More from our Education archives: "Denver Public Schools back-to-cool supplies: Kenny Be's Hip Tip."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar