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Opponents of later school start say forced schedule change would raise havoc

FARGO - Opposition to Measure 8, an initiative on the November ballot that would require North Dakota's public K-12 schools to start after Labor Day, is growing. Backers say the measure would give families more time to enjoy summers and keep kids...


FARGO – Opposition to Measure 8, an initiative on the November ballot that would require North Dakota’s public K-12 schools to start after Labor Day, is growing.

Backers say the measure would give families more time to enjoy summers and keep kids out of hot schools in August.

But opponents say the forced rejiggering of school schedules across the state will raise havoc with hiring and retaining summer child care workers, affect school sports participation and tournament scheduling and push the end of the school year well into June.


“It seems so innocent on the surface … but you have to think of the ripple effects,” Robin Nelson said.

Nelson, executive director of the Fargo Youth Commission and president of the Fargo School Board, said Tuesday that the proposed later start to the school year means college students – who make up 90 percent of her child care worker hires over the summer – will be leaving one to two weeks early as they head back to school.

On the other end of the spectrum, with K-12 schools more likely to run into early and mid-June due to mandated instruction days, snow days and professional development, it will be harder to hire college students because they won’t want to lose out on two to three more weeks of earnings, she said.

With 600 children in Youth Commission care, and about 1,500 children at 27 sites with the YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties, more than 2,000 families in and around the Fargo-Moorhead metro area could be scrambling to find child care at the start and end of summer if not enough workers can be found, Nelson said.

“There is going to be some economic fallout if it passes,” Nelson said.

YMCA President Paul Finstad agrees.

“There’s a lot of locations and a lot of kids that would be impacted,” he said. “It would be a real challenge.”


June versus August

Only three states – Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia – require school classes to begin after Labor Day, according to political website Ballotpedia.

Jon Martinson, executive director of the North Dakota School Boards Association, said his group, which represents all but a couple of the state’s 180 school districts, opposes the loss of local control at the center of the mandate.

“The proponents say this doesn’t affect local control. This just determines the start date. Well, you can’t be partially or sort of or kind of pregnant. It either affects local control or it doesn’t and our view is, of course it does.”

Martinson said a later start will affect the school calendar of each district.

State law requires 175 days of instruction time, plus another two days have to be built into the schedule that can be used as makeup days for snow or other bad weather. Districts also must schedule time for teacher conventions and training.

This year, the Bismarck School District started school on Sept. 2. Their last day of school will be June 4, with graduation on June 7, Martinson said.

In 2015, Martinson noted, Labor Day is Sept. 7, meaning an even later end to the school year.


Summer school would run later, into mid- to late-July. And high school students taking dual-credit classes with colleges will also be affected, as they’ll have to make arrangements to get instruction in the long gaps between the start of the college and K-12 calendars, he said.

“The proponents of this measure say it’s a quality-of-life issue. August is important for families to be together to enjoy the summer and that’s why they want the later start day,” Martinson said.

“And I’ve said to them, ‘Well, isn’t June a quality-of-life issue? You’re not getting out in May.

“If you start school in August, you’ll end in May. If you start school in September, you’re going to end in June,” Martinson said. “People need to know that when they vote.”

Upsets for athletics

The North Dakota High School Activities Association has also weighed in against the measure, sending a letter to parents and school patrons throughout the state, which was signed by Matthew Fetsch, the group’s executive director.

NDHSAA said its calendar is approved through the 2018-19 school year, and state tournament venues have been approved and locked in through 2020-21.


NDHSAA said there are worries student participation in activities would decrease if school started later, and that sports and arts activities seasons would have to be shortened, which could also cut participation rates.

Brian Bubach, an associate director for the NDHSAA, said Bismarck’s experiment with an later school start this fall hurt participation.

“They saw a 20 percent decline in participation,” Bubach said. “It hopefully isn’t an indicator of what a large” effect it could have.

Martinson said the backers of Measure 8 believe it will add to family vacation time in August, but fall sports such as football start their practices in August because cold weather arrives so early here.

“In the case of football … (students are) going to be back anyway, so wouldn’t it be better if they were out (of school) in the spring?” Martinson asked.

Backer confident

Bismarck resident Linda Striebel, a co-chairwoman of the petition drive, said the measure appeared to enjoy overwhelming support with the public.


“More than 90 percent of the people signed (the petitions to put the measure on the ballot) without hesitation,” Striebel said.

She said the weather in this part of the country is warmer in August than in May, and that people don’t want their children sitting in hot schools.

“My intent was just to get it on the ballot and have people vote and have their say in it,” Streibel said.

She said there are days off sprinkled into the school district calendars that could be eliminated to keep the school year from stretching into mid-June.

“A lot of people in the 60-to 70-year-old range said, ‘Absolutely, this is the way it should be. This is the way it always was.’

“I wonder why we couldn’t do it again, if it was doable before?” Striebel asked.

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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