Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

OPINION EDITORIAL
August 9, 2001
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
512-463-0127

Sen. Lucio expresses concern over heat and ozone days with early start dates "Reminds parents to stay in tune to their school calendars"

As school busses begin rolling into our neighborhoods and communities remind us to observe traffic rules for the safety of our children, I wonder how safe they really are traveling in overheated vehicles.

It is alarming to see children in places like Plano jump aboard school buses in early August to begin classes just to have them interrupted repeatedly with intermittent holidays to make the prolonged year more bearable. It is equally disturbing to know that instead of outdoor recess--playground equipment is too hot to touch in hot weather--teachers must resort to indoor activities that include watching videotapes. Although I do not question the quality of the planned, indoor recesses, I'm concerned about the active, squirmy bodies who must sit indoors because of the heat instead of working off their energy.

The Austin area alone has experienced more than 25 days in a row of 100 degree weather this summer. July will be listed as one of the hottest months in recorded history. Despite this information and depending on the area, many football players, band and drill team members, cheerleaders and others are out on the fields practicing in July and early August. Exposing these children to such temperatures could be dangerous.

Besides being hot, August also has a large number of ozone action days. Ozone pollution is mainly a daytime problem during the summer months. Strong sunlight and hot weather causes ground level ozone to form in harmful concentrations in the air. The additional cars driven by school employees, students and parents, along with school buses all at around the same time of the day can be a contributing factor to ozone pollution. Starting school so early can be exacerbating this problem.

The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) reports that ozone pollution concerns center on children participating in outdoor activities, such as recess, physical education or practice for extra-curricular activities. On high-ozone level days, which generally occur in July and August, children are at an increased risk for respiratory problems because their lungs are still developing.

Already for the month of August, areas like Dallas-Forth Worth, Beaumont-Port Arthur, Houston-Galveston-Brazoria and Tyler-Longview have reached ozone days ranging from unhealthy for sensitive people, to unhealthy and even very unhealthy for the general population. This data is based on records from TNRCC according to federal rating standards.

A Fort Worth Star Telegram article dated August 5, 2001, reported that on the day before, Saturday, metroplex air quality reached unhealthy "red zone" levels. Mr. John Promise, director of environmental resources for the North Texas Council of Governments was quoted as saying, "Emissions start occurring in the morning and they cook during the day, so you see higher ozone levels in the afternoon." A later school start date can help prevent increased ozone days.

Starting school later could also benefit thousands of youngsters earning money to help out at home or save for college. An August 5, 2001, article in the San Antonio Express-News reported that SeaWorld will be losing out on three weeks of profits because school starts so early and they cannot continue until Labor Day. The startling reality is that this enterprise alone hires more than 1,800 students in the summer. Young people who could earn a little more income, particularly full-time wages, which are impossible for most to make once they're in school. And these numbers are just for one business.

Additionally, students starting so early have an unfair advantage when competing against students from other school districts with more reasonable start dates. Also unfair is rating schools for TAAS scores whose students are in the classroom fewer instructional days prior to the test, particularly migrant students who return late from working up north with their parents.

My legislation, Senate Bill 108, requires schools, for the 2002-2003 school year, to begin classes no earlier than the week in which August 21 falls. School districts wishing to opt out of the August 21 date must post a notice with the proposed start date in their local newspapers and hold a public hearing. Requests from school districts for waivers will be accepted by the Texas Education Agency and will be good for one year if granted.

Texas is setting an example for other states. A national movement is underway to encourage other states to implement later start dates. The group, "Time to Learn," headed by Ms. Tina Bruno, executive director of Texans for a Traditional School Year, is already in contact with representatives from Florida, Idaho, Alabama, Washington and Virginia. Parents and teachers are realizing the pitfalls of excessively early start dates and the benefits of giving children a full, restful summer in which they can work or engage in other types of learning activities, from camps to library summer programs.

I urge parents to attend the hearing and make themselves heard. They are what constitutes local control and their wishes should prevail.

--30--

Top