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UP FOR DEBATE: THE POST-LABOR DAY START

"To be locked in an agrarian calendar is not going to serve our state well. ... I recognize the value of tourism. But we have to put our kids first."

Edina School Superintendent RIC DRESSEN

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"It is highly disruptive to the economy to go away from that tradition.''

DAN MCELROY, president and chief executive, Hospitality Minnesota

Schools should set their own calendars

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD
  • Star Tribune
  • January 23, 2013 - 6:47 PM

Minnesota law mandates that students may not begin the school year until after Labor Day, and once again education groups are lining up to challenge the rule. They make a convincing case that educators and communities -- not the state or the tourism industry -- should decide when school starts.

Summer recreation and resort representatives want kids available for the late summer season, while educators say kids need more time on task to improve achievement. That's the key reason why educators should prevail during this legislative session.

Over the years, Minnesota lawmakers have vacillated over school start times and the length of the school year. Two decades ago, legislators approved phasing in 10 additional days, then later repealed the decision. At one point, individual districts decided when school would begin, then the law was changed to prohibit starting classes before Sept 1.

Minnesota is one of only three states that dictate when school districts must begin the academic year. Wisconsin and Iowa also mandate a post-Labor Day start. Yet in those two states -- as well as in Minnesota -- the demand for waivers has grown in recent years, with more districts wanting local control over start dates.

In Iowa, about 98 percent of districts go to the state for permission to begin the school year earlier. And the Minnesota Department of Education gave 59 school districts approval to have one or more schools start before Labor Day this year, up from 21 in 2003.

To be exempt from the starting-date rule, a Minnesota district must submit a waiver request citing learning-related reasons, such as having a four-day school week or needing an earlier start on spring construction projects of $400,000 or more.

Waivers shouldn't be necessary. According to a 2008 Minnesota School Boards Association survey, 72 percent of school districts would start before Labor Day if given the option. Many educators argue that getting the school year underway earlier is a critical factor in preparing students for important state and national exams.

A district or regional group of districts should have the flexibility to work with their families and others in their communities to determine what is best educationally for students.

According to news reports, groups of parents in Northfield, Edina and Le Sueur object to August starts in their districts. That's exactly where those discussions should occur -- at the local level.

Resort owners and the State Fair and its vendors have countered that earlier school starts reduce their last-blast-of-summer business and force high-school-aged workers to leave summer jobs early.

While we recognize the economic contributions made by Minnesota's resort and other recreational businesses, their concerns should not be the primary driver for making school start time choices that have an impact on student achievement.

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An editorial of the Star Tribune, Minneapolis.

© 2014 Star Tribune