Robin Nelson: Vote No On Measure 8

There currently exists no Kindergarten through grade 12 (K12) calendar requirement for any ND public school district to begin or end classes on any given date. Some districts already opt to begin after Labor Day, and some do not. I am in no way opposed to any community choosing to begin after the holiday; I simply do not feel there should be a constitutional requirement to do so.

ND Pride and Diversity

I had the privilege of attending both Fargo and Williston public schools, eventually graduating as a Coyote in 1986. During those years I grew acutely aware of the intense pride within each community which was complimented by the deep commitment to education and family. Each town fiercely embraced the uniqueness and differences that made them incredible, yet very different, places to live, work and raise a family.

Close to 30 years later, there remain profound differences within each community. Fargo is a bustling college area with several higher education campuses, a tony downtown and a successful business climate with a strong emphasis in banking and financial services. Williston boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the nation, while building at a record pace in order to serve the influx of workers and their families. At the same time, we can proudly stand together and say our diverse education communities produce ND students who routinely outscore national ACT test score averages.

Measure 8

ND Ballot Measure 8, which will require all public schools to start after Labor Day, sounds simple and amenable on the surface; but I respectfully request voters to consider the repercussions of having it placed into the state’s constitution, especially without allowing for any exceptions. I have yet to find any compelling considerations with regard to positive educational delivery impacts, but wholeheartedly respect that proponents support it for family time and/or economic reasons.

Our neighbor, Minnesota, is one of only three states in the country who have a similar requirement.

Their law, however, allows for exceptions for events like significant remodels or school construction, education consortiums, etc. At the time I write this piece, there are 58 MN districts whose communities are opting out of starting after Labor Day for some very practical reasons.

Other Considerations

Many K12 high school students take courses at our state’s local college campuses and earn post-secondary credits. The ND University System academic calendar typically begins the last Monday of

August while Labor Day can fall anywhere between one to two weeks later. With widely differing calendars, these driven students’ education options will be impacted.

I cannot speak for the rest of the state, but I know the majority of Fargo public school teachers hold masters degrees that are most often earned during the summer at local universities and supplemented with a class or two during the academic year. Again, without more closely aligned calendars, it would take educators much longer to further formally educate themselves, which has been continuously proven to positively impact student achievement.

I appreciate some schools do not have air conditioning, and at the same time many do.

Although I have a large amount of respect for the ND High School Activities Association and the positive educational impacts of extra-curricular involvement, I prefer not to inject them into this conversation.

Current Legislative Requirements

There are currently 175 mandated student contact days annually with other requirements for days off for the ND Education Association conference, storm days and mandated professional development time. Outside of these requirements, the Fargo school district calendar has 3 out of 7 professional development days embedded into the academic year calendar in addition to numerous other summer development opportunities.

Whatever the outcome of this measure, I strongly feel some of these requirements should be addressed. I am personally declaring to work on this when the legislature convenes in January.

Students are Different

Like most of my classmates, I was distracted from learning while daydreaming about riding my bike and playing outside after being cooped inside after a cold winter. Many teachers have told me they still observe the same behavior in students during the spring time. During the summer months, my family spent most weekends at our MN lake cabin. Yet by the end of summer vacation, I was very anxious to get back to school. I have found that my children tend to feel the same way. But I dare not assume that children of all communities experience these same feelings.

Local Impact Example

I will share one local example of the impact that the passage of this measure will create.

First off, in the spirit of full disclosure, not only am I a member of the Fargo Board of Education and a mother of school-age children, but I am also an employer at one of the largest childcare providers in the Red River Valley, the Fargo Youth Commission and Boys & Girls Club partnership. Almost every aspect of my life is committed to children and community. In the latter, I employ over 200 college students, part time during the academic year and full time during the summer, to care for the elementary-age children we serve.

The ND University System academic year typically begins the last Monday of August. If the calendars of K12 and higher education were not similar, it would greatly limit services to the 1400 children with working parents that my organization serves over the course of the year. In fact, we would have just a handful of employees who would be available to work during the bulk of their college school day while the children we serve are still on summer vacation for an additional one to two weeks.

Additionally, calendar differences would put more stress on recruiting and retention efforts of college-
age staff since they would be losing out on one to three weeks of summer income depending on when Labor Day falls and when the K12 calendar ends for the year. The president of the YMCA, the other major childcare provider in the valley, agrees that his 1500 families would also be adversely affected with the passage of this measure.

I am not presenting the disjointed higher education and K12 calendar dilemma to trump other factors or to be the lone consideration with regard to this measure, but rather to illustrate that unique communities should have options that are best suited to local cultures. That said, I respect that other districts have unique situations as well, and I have no right to disregard them.

In summation, I trust that the authors of this ballot measure are sincere and well-intended. However, the application of mandating school calendar requirements for other communities will indeed have deep and varying impacts in the differing cultures and lifestyles across our state.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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