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Published September 12 2013

Forum editorial: A school calendar revision?

Prompted by the closing of schools in late August because of steamy weather, the Fargo School Board is taking a second look at next year’s school calendar. Good idea. The board’s calendar committee will consider adjustments in the proposed Aug. 20 start of the 2014-15 school year – two days earlier than this year.

The district closed several elementary schools last month when temperatures soured into the 90s and humidity was tropical. The non-air conditioned buildings heated up and did not cool at night because nighttime temperatures and humidity stayed high. Classroom temperatures soared to near 90 degrees. Lost class time will be made up by extending the school day a half hour from Sept. 30 to Dec. 20.

The proposed start of classes next year is very early, board members said. The committee was charged with coming up with a calendar that resets the start of classes to August 27. That’s a start.

The calendar adjustment highlights a long-standing concern that North Dakota schools start too early (before Labor Day) and shut down too early (in May). A push is underway for a ballot measure that would have all schools open after Labor Day, a common practice in many states. The heat/humidity closure in Fargo last month could be seen as evidence the school year should start later. A signature petition for the measure has been approved by the North Dakota secretary of state.

Arguments against a change in the start and finish dates for North Dakota schools range from upsetting sports schedules to having to rearrange holiday breaks and teaching agendas. None of those alleged problems is without solution. School districts in other states get things done with more sensible calendars than North Dakota’s stuck-in-the-past system.

There is opportunity on the current Fargo schools calendar to fit class days into a more sensible early September to early June schedule. For example – as board member Rick Steen noted – students are in classes only 15 days in all of November, and there is no school scheduled for the first week of March. It looks like plenty of wiggle room.

Moreover, if fall (summer, really) sports scheduling is the deal-breaker, then it appears the sports tail is wagging the education dog.

It is likely the school measure will get on the ballot next year. Sentiment is rising across the state that a post-Labor Day start makes sense, not only for parents and school kids, but also for the state’s tourism sector. But whatever happens on the ballot, Fargo schools are moving in the right direction by revisiting and revising next year’s school calendar.

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