IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

When does school start? Why students go back at all different times

From mid-July to mid-September, 'back to school' season varies greatly across the country.
/ Source: TODAY

When does school start? It's not such a simple question for students and parents around the country.

While many U.S. schools embrace a 180-day academic calendar, the first day of classes at K-12 districts can stretch from mid-July to early September, depending on the city or state, climate or even whether teachers and students are at risk for burnout.

Children in Southern and Southwestern states generally start school earlier in the year than those on the East Coast, the Midwest, and the Northwest, according to an analysis from the Pew Research Center of more than 13,000 national districts in 2019, the most recent research available. Pew didn't look at whether students are returning to school earlier than ever before, however, the report notes, "There’s some evidence that more secondary-school students, at least, are spending part of their summers in the classroom."

What is summer vacation over?

Summer vacation wasn't always about lazy days and sleep-away camp — historically, school calendars were built around the farm economy.

"Generally speaking, during the early-to-mid 19th century, schools in rural settings revolved around the agricultural system, allowing kids time off to harvest crops," Steven L. Nelson, an associate professor of education policy and leadership at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, tells "Urban schools ran year-round so parents could work in factories and at other jobs."

"In the age of school reform, we're moving toward a much longer school year — and sometimes a longer school day — which can help students who are behind," says Nelson.

Some schools may determine their school calendars in accordance with the weather. "Schools might build extra days into their calendars for snow or hurricane days," he says.

Some schools opt for shorter vacations to prevent the “summer slide,” when students experience learning loss over the 8-week summer vacation.

Chandler Unified School District in Arizona is one that starts in mid-summer.

Jessica Edgar, the executive director of curriculum and instruction, tells that it operates on a modified year-round schedule: This year, students started school on July 19 and will finish on May 23, with two-week breaks scattered throughout October, December and March.

With a shorter summer break, material from the previous year is significantly fresher in the minds of students and they can hit the ground running in the fall, she says.

The shortened summer also benefits students who rely on consistent air-conditioned buildings and food services, she says.

What parents think about school start dates

How do moms feel about the varying school calendars?

Abigail Carreño Miller’s two children start school in Massachusetts at different times — her 10-year-old son’s public school begins right after Labor Day and finishes mid-June, while her 13-year-old daughter’s private school starts September 12 and ends during the last week of May.

One disadvantage: the children’s conflicting schedules can affect summer travel.

“If we wanted to go on vacation in early June, our son would have to miss school,” Carreño Miller tells TODAY. “The benefits for our daughter though, are tremendous — she gets exhausted from working hard, so having fewer academic days and longer vacations are good for her."

Yolanda Street’s children started school in Chula Vista, California, in mid-July. Their school offers a two-week fall break along with traditional holiday breaks.

“The fall break poses a big childcare issue because I work as a high school counselor in a different school district that does not align with my children’s schedule,” Street tells "We’ve made it work with YMCA programs and family help, but it’s a huge logistical challenge."

Lisa Schingledecker Baltes of Fort Wayne, Indiana sends her children to a school that begins on August 9 and ends on May 29, with three breaks.

“I really like that we are out of school before June and that we have a full June and July summer,” she tells “I don’t love that August is basically all school.”