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School year change might affect 2011 theme park attendance

By Robert Niles
Published: December 15, 2010 at 11:58 AM
The Los Angeles Unified School Board voted last night to change the school year calendar for Southern California's largest school district. Starting next fall, LA Unified schools will start on August 15, instead of after Labor Day, as they have for generations. My local school district, Pasadena Unified, is considering a similar change to an August start, as are other districts in the area.

Traditionally, Southern California school systems have ended in June and started after Labor Day. That schedule helps save on utility costs, I've been told, because the area's "June gloom" keeps temperatures cooler during that month than the broiling conditions we typically get in August. Therefore, it's cheaper to keep school buildings open in June than in August.

However, the rest of the country, it seems, gets out in May and returns in August. We joke around here how Target and other stores roll out their "Back to School" displays in July, just a week or two after kids have gotten out of school.

The switches bring many Southern California schools in line with the rest of the country, but also might affect theme park attendance for 2011.

How so?

Hundreds of thousands of children in Southern California are going to get a very short summer vacation in 2011 - just two months, instead of the traditional three. That means one less month to visit (or work at) local theme parks.

The change also will mean a shift in attendance patterns for Southern California parks. Right now, if you're planning to visit a theme park in May - go to Southern California. With schools in session through June, attendance lags at the parks. But if you're planning a late August visit - go to Florida. Schools there are back in session there and theme park attendance sags. But in California, the theme parks are packed, as many summer programs and camps are done for the season and thousands of local kids and their families pack the parks in the last few weeks before school starts. (Late August, after Disneyland has lifted its summer annual pass blockouts, is perhaps the most crowded time of the year to visit that park.)

The change promises to bring the Southern California parks more in line with parks around the country, increasing attendance in May and lowering it in late August. But this year, the parks will get the lowered attendance in August without the increase in May.

Granted, Disneyland's packed pretty much all the time anymore, whether schools are in session or not - a "slow" day there is a very relative term. But the switch could have a real impact on Six Flags Magic Mountain and Universal Studios Hollywood - both in Los Angeles County - as well as on nearby Knott's Berry Farm.

Just a heads-up as we look forward to 2011.

Readers' Opinions

From Frank Forrester on December 15, 2010 at 1:25 PM
A lot of public schools here in Virginia get out in early June and go back the day after Labor Day. This helps out the local parks as they are able to employ High School students during the busy time for their parks.

A few years back the state tried to change when the school year started, but Kings Dominion fought it and the bill was never passed.

From 75.31.185.119 on December 15, 2010 at 6:31 PM
This story put the insider in Theme Park Insider.

Thanks for the heads up as this is really valuable information for anybody planning a vacation next summer to SoCal.

From 24.90.255.115 on December 15, 2010 at 6:49 PM
NICE theme parks do ahve power I guss. I do NOT see the logic into this at ALL. california typicly does not get snow so they have no unexpected closures. Ex vermont this makes sense casue they get a lo of snow but for a warm californa place Not so much
From Nick Markham on December 15, 2010 at 10:34 PM
Wow, I am surprised you guys got that luxury. Most of the country has to start around August 15 and this is new for you guys? When did your school finish when it started after Labor Day?
From Stephen Tuday on December 16, 2010 at 1:14 AM
Here in Atlanta, Georgia, School gets out the week before Memorial Day and returns the FIRST week in August. Our Six Flags park shuts down for weekday operations the second week in August.

These past few years have seen area school districts entertain the notion of 'year-round' school, meaning the ten weeks of summer break would be distributed throughout the school year in the form of longer holiday breaks, longer spring break, etc, but just a few weeks for summer break. If something like this were to pass, I do not know how SF would handle it. At this point, it is unclear whether or not a year-round school calendar will ever be feasible. For the sake of Six Flags, I sure hope not.

From Bobby Miller on December 16, 2010 at 8:23 AM
Here in Pennsylvania, they get out the first week of June and would go back after Labor Day. But being a big high school football state, they changed it a few years ago so that they now go back to school the week before Labor Day so they can get that extra football game in, great huh. They also talked about year round school but nothing ever became of it so far.
From Robert Niles on December 16, 2010 at 1:14 PM
In response to Nick, the last day of school in Pasadena this past school year was June 24.
From M. Ryan Traylor on December 16, 2010 at 2:00 PM
Blackout dates will surely adjust if the school calendar changes. Means those SoCal APs will start seeing June removed and August added. What AP wants to spend a hot day at Disneyland?
From Nick Markham on December 16, 2010 at 3:44 PM
Wow Robert, that is a pretty late date. Now I understand getting back in September. Our school has always started the third week in August and ended first week of June.
From KJ Simpson on December 16, 2010 at 7:09 PM
I was so surprised several years ago when I found out some kids had to go back to school in August! In New York, school goes until late June, and starts back up after Labor Day. Two month summer vacation.
From Eric G on December 16, 2010 at 8:59 PM
The potential impact is only one-year and it's really minimal. Why does it matter? While LAUSD may be the single largest district, the sum of the other area districts is larger, so calendar year change will have less of an impact than some may think. Also, for most Southern California residents with passes Disneyland is off-limits during the summer months already.

I'm excited, since the calender change will be incentive for Disney to create more blockout dates for the cheapo passholders.

From Tiffany J. L. Alfonso on December 17, 2010 at 7:14 AM
That's what I thought, too, Robert. Before the school start date change in 2007, families packed the parks a 100-mile radius from my home in the Brandon, FL, area in early August. I was one of those families cramming that last bit of free time of summer vacation.

But the school start change affects attendance, but not much in my region thanks to myriad out-of-towners north of it and turismos (including Brazilian tour groups).

From Dan Barnes on December 17, 2010 at 2:07 PM
To expand on what Frank said about Virginia, several school systems actually did get permission from Richmond to start before Labor Day. Virginia Beach was one such city, and they got permission from the state but there was such an uproar from the resort strip, and from students (and their parents) who work at the oceanfront during the summer, that the city didn't go forward with the plan.
From Michael Owen on December 18, 2010 at 9:46 AM
Discoveryland (Tomorrowland) at Disneyland Paris thank you very much. A strong attraction line-up - Space Mountain, Star Tours and Buzz - coupled with some marvellous architecture. Somewhat dated in parts, but that can add to the charm of it.

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