August 21, 2013


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

So when should the school year start?
Should school bells ring in August before the Labor Day weekend? Or should the bells remain silent until after the last long weekend of the summer?
The start of the school year has been an issue that has been tossed around in North Dakota several times. And following each and every time that the issue is brought up, the decision has always been to leave the issue up to local school districts. So North Dakota school districts continue to leave the issue alone and start school before Labor Day and end it around Memorial Day.
While many would argue that the start of the school year is about local choice, I’ve argued that it really isn’t. It is hard to have much of a local say in when school starts when the North Dakota High School Activities Association (NDHSAA) sets when fall sports practice can begin and when fall sports season begins. And with that pronouncement by the NDHSAA, it obviously behooves schools to start classes to coincide with the start of fall sports.
Granted, the decision as to whether or not high school sports should start before or after Labor Day and end before or after Memorial Day should not be a driving force in determining a school calendar. But, right or wrong, it has been done.
So now, the issue of when to start school is back on the discussion table as a group of Bismarck-Mandan parents want to gather enough signatures statewide that would force a vote by North Dakota citizens and, if passed, would require the state to start school after Labor Day.
The group argues that the schedule currently followed by a majority, if not all, North Dakota schools districts is a poor match to the state’s weather. And the group is right about the weather. With the majority of the state’s schools starting classes sometime during the last two weeks of August, we are definitely sending many students back to schools and classrooms without the benefit of air conditioning. And when school ends in mid to late May, the weather isn’t generally all that great either.
But hot temperatures in the fall and cold, wet weather in the spring is what we have in North Dakota. We can’t change that.
The trouble with pushing school starting dates into September is that also means that the end of school and graduation will more than likely have to be pushed into June, unless a lot of the typical vacation days during the school calendar are eliminated.
Obviously, there are pros and cons to the subject of when school needs to start in North Dakota. And, if this group is successful in getting the number of signatures it takes to get the measure on the ballot, now may be a good time for all of the people of North Dakota to weigh in on the subject.