An unusually late Labor Day and a new provision allowing Minnesota school districts to start classes early without state approval have led to varied school start dates, a phenomenon with implications for parents, the State Fair and lake country resorts.
At least 76 of the state’s 333 school districts have started classes earlier than the Tuesday after Labor Day, according to a Minnesota School Boards Association survey. Labor Day falls on Sept. 7 this year. Last year, only 50 school districts started before Labor Day.
However, it’s unclear whether the districts asked to begin early, as previously required, or took advantage of the new provision, which allows any district to start as early as Sept. 1 without permission, for any reason. The association got responses from only 70 percent of districts.
Josh Collins, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Education, said school districts were not required to notify his agency about their start dates this year.
In previous years, to get state exemption, a district had to submit a waiver for learning-related reasons, such as having a four-day school week or needing an earlier start on construction projects of $400,000 or more.
This year, more districts wanted to start early, but didn’t have time to set a calendar after the education bill was passed during the special session, said Greg Abbott, director of communications for the School Boards Association.
Across Minnesota, the varied start dates and late-falling Labor Day have created a scramble for child-care centers and parents.
Chad Dunkley, CEO of New Horizon Academy, said early school start dates meant about 500 fewer children in his organization’s school-aged summer camp programs compared to the same week last year.
Meanwhile, child-care centers across the state have seen an increase in the demand for temporary care.
“Every year when college students [who have been caring for children during the summer] go back to school in mid-August, right before schools start in early September, we see an influx of families scramble for temporary care for a couple weeks,” Dunkley said. “This year, instead of one or two weeks, it’s been about three weeks.”
“Frantic parents” have been calling a New Horizon Academy center in Plymouth seeking temporary care for this week, but it no longer had room, he said.
“In some communities, families are really scrambling and juggling different things to do whatever they can this week,” he said. “Because Labor Day is later, I think families have an additional week of struggle this year.”
The State Fair is noticing, too.
Laura Morlock, project coordinator for Alphabet Forest, said there have been fewer students than normal at the fair this week, but more toddlers and babies. It’s noticeable as fewer people gather in children’s activity areas, she said.
While some families recruit family members to help babysit or take days off from work to care for their children, others have flocked north.
The Finn’n Feather Resort in Bemidji has seen more families book last-minute reservations than previous years, said Timberly Christiansen, who works the resort’s front desk.
“[Families] decided they had some extra time before school starts, so they’re going away one last time,” Christiansen said.
The change has led to other resorts losing clientele during what’s traditionally a busy week. John Kavanaugh, co-owner of Kavanaugh’s Resort in East Gull Lake, said the family-friendly resort is at 56 percent occupancy. Last year at this time, it was fully booked.
Labor Day weekend occupancy will be low compared to previous years, he said.
“It’s such a waste of Minnesota summers,” Kavanaugh said. “We don’t have that long of summers anyway. And now here we are, at a week where it’s 90-degree temperatures and the kids are in school, and we have a resort that’s half-full. It’s just too bad.”