Students in the Gulfport and Ocean Springs public schools will be returning to classes Aug. 18, a full two weeks after most South Mississippi children will have started back.
A Mississippi law that was set to take effect this year would have forced schools to start no earlier than the third week of August, but the Legislature repealed it during its 2014 session. For the Ocean Springs School District, that decision came too late.
"As was customary, we started in October of last year working on our calendar," said Bonita Coleman-Potter, Ocean Springs schools superintendent. "We published that calendar in February.
"Because teachers and parents had already made significant plans, we didn't feel it was fair for us to go back -- two months after the calendar was published -- and say 'Now you have to come back Aug. 8.'"
Coleman-Potter said the decision wasn't an easy one, but it came down to a vote and teachers overwhelmingly chose to stick with the Aug. 18 plan.
Storm season was another factor in the later start in Ocean Springs.
"That's two more weeks we're out during hurricane season," Coleman-Potter said.
"It seems like we get bad weather in August, so we're really hoping we don't have to use any of our days for inclement weather."
In Gulfport, students had already adjusted to the later start date for the 2013-14 school year.
"We did it last year," said Glen East, superintendent of the Gulfport School District. "It came out nicely."
East said the later start worked better for the way students are tested. Nine-weeks tests are given before Christmas break, and when students come back for a new semester, they're given assessments to gauge their readiness for the end-of-the-year tests.
"It gives us an idea of what they've learned so far, what they retained over Christmas," East said. "It works very well, I think."
Because lawmakers gave districts the power to choose their own start dates, Coleman-Potter said Ocean Springs might go back to the earlier date for the next school year.
"The great thing about a calendar is that we get to look at it again next year," Coleman-Potter said. "If this year is too much of a challenge for us, we have the flexibility to change it next year."