Edina parents are intensifying pressure on school leaders before a decision Monday on whether to start school in August -- a controversial pre-Labor Day start that hundreds of parents oppose.
More than 250 parents have signed a petition, and more than 100 e-mails -- mostly against starting in August-- have been sent to the school district. Some parents are even appealing to state legislators.
"For me, it's just tradition; I've never in my whole life gone to school before Labor Day. It's just summer," said Joanne Bergstedt, a parent who contacted state legislators for help. "I feel like the school board hasn't listened when it feels like a large portion of parents in Edina oppose it."
Last Wednesday, school board members discussed postponing the August date until 2014 but decided to stick by voting on the proposal, which argues that shifting the calendar to an earlier start will boost crucial state and national test scores by giving students an extra week before the tests to prepare.
"We know that no calendar will meet the needs of every individual, but we are unified in our commitment to looking at what is educationally best for all of our students," Superintendent Ric Dressen said in a statement.
If it's approved, Edina would join a growing number of Minnesota school districts starting before Labor Day, increasing from 21 districts in 2003 that had one or more schools start early, to 59 districts this year. Minnesota is one of three states that mandate the post-Labor Day start, exempting districts if they submit a waiver for learning-related reasons such as a four-day school week or needing an early jump on spring construction projects of $400,000 or more -- the reason Edina would cite.
The perennial debate often is controversial for school boards, though, pitting them against parents who want to preserve family time and tourism industry leaders who say the August start will cut into prime resort traffic and State Fair attendance. Earlier this month, Northfield nixed a proposal to start Aug. 13 after parent outcry over it conflicting with programs like 4-H.
Last year, a University of Minnesota Tourism Center study concluded that starting school before Labor Day decreases the chances by 50 percent that families will take a trip in August or September, and 30 percent across the summer. A 2008 study, however, looked at the effect on Wisconsin schools of starting in August or September, showing the extra time to prepare for exams did boost math scores among fourth-graders.
'It's never been done before'
In Edina, Bergstedt said she heard about the potential change just a couple of weeks ago and said some families may already have booked summer trips. She wants the board to at least postpone the early start until 2014, but even then, she'd prefer adding days in winter, not eating into vacation time.
"It doesn't feel right, the fact it's happening so quickly," she said. "To make a dramatic change seven months before school starts ... it's never been done before."
The 2013-14 proposed calendar starts Aug. 26, but with the same number of school days. Private schools such as Breck, Blake and Benilde-St. Margaret's already start in August.
No matter what Edina decides, education lobbyists and tourism leaders are preparing to battle it out at the State Capitol, where legislation is expected again this year to let schools opt in to a pre-Labor Day start without state approval.
"It should be a local decision," said Scott Croonquist of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. "We have an uneven playing field where private schools can set their own calendar; we think it makes more sense to have a uniform policy. People would adjust. There would still be plenty of summer."
Kelly Smith 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib