This year our students go back to school after the Labour Day long weekend. So why don’t we always start after Labour Day? Some years our students go back in late August — why is that? Why can’t it be consistent?
We asked Assistant Superintendent Mark Thiesen to shed some light on these questions. Here’s what he had to say.
The answers to these questions are based on two things — 1) The way Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory chose to build our calendar and 2) the need for a specific number of instructional days in each school year. Wait – what?! Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory?
History of our calendar
It was the ancient people that gave us the calendars we use today. Back in the day, people told time based on the actions of the earth in space. It was easy to chunk out a day — sunrise, sunset, night. Everyone could figure that out. Clever people figured out the cycle of the moon to be about 29 days. Even more clever people figured out the regularity of a summer solstice (longest day in the year) and realized there were 365 ¼ days in a year. Unfortunately, 29 days does not multiply to equal exactly 365 ¼. There are extra days. So several ancient Roman leaders had various solutions, until in 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar decreed a solution — 7 months with 31 days, 4 months with 30 days and 1 month with 28 days… and every four years we catch up the four quarters to give February 29 days. This was the basic structure of the calendar until Pope Gregory needed to make a few modifications to manage Easter. Here’s a video to help explain it.
So what does that have to do with our first day of school?
Well what I didn’t mention was the days of the week. The explanation for the days, months and years can be traced back to natural events — rotation of the earth, the movement of the earth around the sun, and the movement of the moon around the earth. But why seven day weeks? This is hard to say with precision. Here’s another video to help explain this question.
Of course the book of Genesis in the Bible tells the seven day creation story. It is possible that the ancients of every culture based the seven days on seven known celestial bodies — Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. In any case, we have seven day weeks and returning to the Math, months with 30 and 31 days don’t divide evenly into 7 day weeks. There are always extra days. Those extra days cause the first days of the month to shift across the various days of the week. Many Statutory Holidays, including Labour Day are placed on “the first Monday of the Month”, not just on a specific calendar day, like Christmas. And that’s why Labour Day can fall on any date between September 1st and September 7th.
How we determine the start of the school year
It’s important to know that the Ministry of Education determines the amount of instructional time that must be in all school programming. In our situation, that works out to 184 days. We divide that into two semesters, each with 92 days. The Ministry of Education also sets the dates for final exams. These dates basically mark the end of each semester, so we count 92 school days back from the end to find our beginning.
When Labour Day falls in the first few days of September, we can usually get our 92 days in and start school after Labour Day. The later it falls, the more likely we will have to dip into August to get our 92 days.
There are several other factors that play a part in creating the school calendar. Other statutory holidays, the placement of Remembrance Day and Christmas, and the shifting date of Easter are just a few other factors outside of our control. We also have items in labour contracts, the need for professional learning, student teacher interviews, and research regarding patterns of learning to consider. Some of these topics will be described in future posts.
Until then — Happy Labour Day!