To the editor:
ND Ballot Measure 8, which will establish a state law to require all public schools to start after Labor Day, sounds harmless and amenable on the surface. I have yet to find any compelling considerations with regard to positive educational delivery impacts, but wholeheartedly respect that proponents support it for family reasons. I respectfully request voters to consider some of the lesser known factors involved and whether they want or need to give up local control.
No required start date
There is no calendar requirement for any K-12 public school district in North Dakota to begin or end classes on any given date. Some districts, like Grand Forks and Bismarck, already opt to begin after Labor Day, while some do not.
Local school boards currently have the authority to control school start dates. Just this year, the Fargo Board of Education sent a calendar proposal back to committee because we felt it started too early. The calendar was amended by one week before the board finally approved it.
Differences between ND and MN
Minnesota, which is frequently cited in this conversation, is one of only three states in the country that have a requirement to start after Labor Day. Its law allows for exemptions for events like significant remodels or school construction, education consortiums, etc. There are currently 58 MN districts whose communities are opting out of starting after Labor Day. Measure 8 would not allow for any exceptions.
Currently, ND requires 175 student contact days while MN requires 165. MN has one of the lower numbers of required days in the nation, which allows for its school’s ending dates to occur during the first week of June. In 2015, Labor Day falls on Sept. 7, which could push ND school calendars even further into June if this measure passes.
We often hear about the lack of air conditioning in some schools to be a reason for a required later start date. Simply put, some districts have air conditioning and some do not. Is a state law really necessary to make varying districts comply with others that are in different situations?
In those communities with college campuses, the resulting mismatched K-12 and the current higher education calendars will impact the work force and childcare. The Red River Valley is primarily served by two childcare centers, the YMCA and my employer, the Fargo Youth Commission. We both employ college-aged students, full time in the summer and part time during the school year, to care for our elementary-aged children. If K-12 convenes up to two weeks after college campuses do, our area will have minimal staff to care for over 2,000 children with working parents since these college students are typically in class 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
I am sure other communities have unique situations that may be impacted in varying ways, and I hope we each will continue to respect and protect our differences.
ND pride and diversity
I had the privilege of attending both Fargo and Williston public schools, eventually graduating as a Coyote in 1986. During those years I grew acutely aware of each community’s intense pride and individuality, which was complemented by a deep commitment to education and family. Conforming into a one-size-fits-all proposition seems to be very counter to the attitudes to which I have grown accustomed. Local control remains the path to maintain individuality.
In summation, I trust that the authors of this ballot measure are sincere and well-intended. Before casting your ballot, I implore you to consider these factors before establishing a state law to further mandate statewide school calendar requirements.
-Robin Nelson, Fargo Board of Education President and Executive Director for the Boys & Girls Club / Fargo Youth Commission
January 29th 2019
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