School in August has never felt right

Tomorrow morning, kids in the New England Public School District will attend their eighth day of classes. By the time Labor Day rolls around, they’ll have been in school for 13 days.
In my mind, and apparently several thousand others, that’s ridiculous.

In fact, a group of parents from Bismarck and Mandan have come together in a grassroots effort to get North Dakota schools to start after Labor Day.

Within a month, the group will begin seeking signatures to get the issue placed on the November 2014 ballot in an effort to leave the choice of when school starts solely in the people’s hands instead of a group of school administrators.

I have long felt that North Dakota schools starting in August was absurd.

That opinion is based on three factors: the weather, North Dakota’s small grain harvest typically taking place in mid-to-late August and the state being out of step with much of the nation.

I haven’t spoken with many people who like the fact that New England started school Aug. 15. In fact, just writing that last sentence made me shake my head in disgust.

My nephew and niece, who live in Minnesota where their dad is a teacher and a coach, have been in the area the entire month of August, enjoying the late summer at my family’s farm. They’ll go home this week so they can prepare to start school on Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day and the official start date for all Minnesota schools.

Last Sunday, the disconnect in start dates reared its head as my family gathered to celebrate my niece Megan’s eighth birthday in New England.

The weather was beautiful — almost too hot — and the kids wanted to keep playing outside and jump on the trampoline. We even ventured over to the school’s playground with the kids and I couldn’t imagine them trying to learn with temperatures in the high 90s.

Just as the weather was cooling off in the late afternoon and becoming perfect for playtime and relaxing, my sister-in-law had to rain on everyone’s parade by doing her motherly duty and telling her daughters that playtime was over because they had school in the morning.

My nephew and niece from Minnesota went home and my nieces from New England fought their parents over going to bed because it was still sunny outside and they wanted to play.

This is at the heart of that group of parents’ argument to move the school start to Labor Day.

Why are we forcing the start of school during a part of summer — and yes, it’s still summer — that is arguably the hottest and while families are still in summer-vacation mode?

You rarely hear of North Dakota families taking long vacations over Memorial Day weekend, when temperatures are typically in the mid-60s and a 20 mph wind is normal.

This time of the year is perfect for vacations. Even incredibly kid-friendly Medora, the state’s top tourist attraction, keeps most of its attractions open past Labor Day. This is obviously done for out-of-staters since North Dakotans’ kids are studying for tests by then.

Also, as one of the thousands of farm kids who grew up in this state, I always found it ironic that a state which champions agriculture sends its farm kids back to school when they’re needed the most — prime all-hands-on-deck wheat harvest season.

So enlighten me, educators and school administrators: What exactly are you teaching kids between the middle of August and Labor Day that they can’t learn at any other time of the year?

It’s obvious that kids are feisty and a little less likely to soak in what is being taught at the end of the school year. But does it matter when that end comes? Why are we forcing kids to start school when summer is still in full swing?

The group needs signatures from 13,452 eligible North Dakota voters to get the issue placed on the ballot. And they’re going to get them. As of Friday afternoon, the “Start ND School After Labor Day” Facebook page had more than 5,600 likes.

There are enough frustrated parents out there, especially those who moved to North Dakota from states where they start school after Labor Day, who have had enough with school administrators saying when summer ends and begins.

Whether the people choose to start school after Labor Day or keep things the way it is, in the end, it will be nice to see another issue left up to the people and not an administrative board.

Monke is the managing editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at dmonke@thedickinsonpress.com or tweet him at monkebusiness.

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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