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Published August 20 2013

Forum editorial: ND school calendar outdated?

A serious discussion about changing North Dakota’s public school calendar is overdue. An initiative proposed for the November 2014 ballot will jump-start a debate that has been simmering for decades.

The call to move the early start of school from August to after Labor Day is not new. It surfaces frequently, especially in late summer as school is about to begin, often at the same time temperatures rise into the 90s. It’s obvious nearly every year that there is a lot of summer left in August. And that could mean more opportunities for family recreation, longer schedules for public swimming pools and a little more time for summer jobs. Not all school buildings are air-conditioned, so the August classroom environment for learning is less than ideal.

Critics of a change suggest the weather is just as warm and humid in June (the school year would be extended to dismissal in early June rather than late May) as it is in August. Not so. Calendar summer starts in June, but weather in June in this part of the country is typically spring-like – cool and wet. Check the records.

North Dakota would not be unique in adjusting the school calendar to reflect realities of 21st-century life. Many states, including neighboring Minnesota, either mandate a September-to-June school year or give local districts options to set their own calendars.

Well, critics might say, it’s all about making the tourism industry happy. Why not? Tourism is a major contributor to the state’s economy, not only in the form of jobs for school-age youth but also in attracting new money into the state from visitors. Why not extend the tourist season through sunny and hot August and into Labor Day, which often is seen as the last holiday of summer?

The debate will be lively because, for the most part, current school calendars are driven by priorities such as high school sports. The myth of local control of school schedules is evident when viewed in the context of sports mandates from the North Dakota High School Activities Association. Still, if the measure reaches the ballot and voters like the idea of a later school start and later finish, there’s no doubt everyone and every organization involved with schools would find ways to adjust.

Let the discussion begin. Help the petition organizers gather the 13,452 signatures needed to get the question on next year’s ballot. North Dakota voters will have an opportunity to put to rest a debate that has been percolating for a long time.


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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.