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Forum News Service, Published August 17 2013

Parents aim for vote to push back school start in North Dakota

MANDAN, N.D. – The start of the school year in North Dakota could get pushed until after Labor Day if a group of parents gets its wish.

Parents from the Bismarck-Mandan area plan a news conference Monday afternoon to announce efforts to gather signatures for a November 2014 ballot measure requiring North Dakota schools to start after Labor Day.

“School starts next week in Bismarck, Mandan and many other North Dakota communities, a time when temperatures are often among the hottest of the summer,” the group said in a statement issued late Friday. The group selected Raging Rivers Water Park in Mandan as its backdrop to announce the petition drive for an initiated measure to change the start date for schools statewide.

To gain a spot on the November 2014 general election ballot, petitioners would be required to gather 13,452 valid signatures within 90 days of submitting the proposed legislation to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office.

If the petition drive is successful placed on the ballot and enacted by voters, North Dakota would join Minnesota as one of a few states with a post-Labor Day mandate. With a few exceptions, Minnesota law prohibits districts from starting the school year earlier, but it’s been a topic of legislative debate for more than a quarter century.

According to the Minnesota School Board Association, the Minnesota Legislature first prohibited schools from starting before Labor Day in 1985. The law was relaxed in 1997 to accommodate years with later Labor Days. In 1998, pre-Labor Day starts were allowed as long as the first day of school was September 1 or later. In 2005, the post-Labor Day mandate was re-enacted.

The legislative debate has been fueled, in part, by school leaders have argued that districts need more flexibility to set school calendars in order to raise student achievement. Opponents of the change say it would hurt the state fair and business owners, particularly those in the resort industry.

The MSBA website reports Michigan and Virginia also have laws mandating school starting after Labor Day.