School board compromises on school start date
March 18. 2014 6:00AM
Dell Rapids School District’s 2014-2015 academic year will start a week later than usual after a divided school board approved next year’s calendar Monday.
The board has been mulling the idea of starting classes after Labor Day since an online poll revealed public support for a later start date.
Because the holiday sometimes occurs as late as Sept. 7, board members and school administration agreed a precedent for starting after Labor Day isn’t prudent. Rather, the conversation should revolve around starting classes during the first week of September, not necessarily following Labor Day.
“We keep focusing on traditional or after Labor Day. Maybe there’s a way to get somewhere in the middle,” said Summer Schultz, district superintendent, at a special board meeting to address the academic calendar.
There she presented three calendar proposals for the 2014-2015 school year. One maintained tradition and called for classes to start Aug. 19 and let out May 15, 2015. An alternative calendar had classes beginning Sept. 2 and letting out May 22. A third option – the one approved by the board – starts classes Aug. 27 with school letting out May 21.
“If starting school on the eighth of September seems kind of late, but starting school on Aug. 18 seems really early, well maybe next year we can go closer to the beginning of September,” Schultz said.
More than a dozen parents, teachers and concerned community members filled the school board chambers at the high school and each had a different take on when school ought to start for the year.
Teachers who testified on the proposed calendars favored starting classes the third week in August. Tom Wolff, a vocational teacher at the high school and the staff representative for the Dell Rapids Superintendent’s Cabinet, said starting later than the third week in August hinders teachers’ ability to adequately prepare students for state tests, which must be taken by a set date. Starting school later would require the first semester to extend past Christmas break, Wolff said, even though some advanced-placement courses taken by high school students might require course completion at an earlier date.
Student athletes participating in fall sports like football, cross country, volleyball and competitive cheer start practicing in the beginning or middle of August.
“It puts students at a disadvantage,” he said.
Board member Matt Weiland, who wants a September start date, pointed to the Minnesota school system when he said some of the perceived challenges might be overstated.
“Minnesota has a state law that they can’t start until after Labor Day, and traditionally Minnesota schools beat South Dakota schools academically,” he said. “Where’s the academic advantage there? I don’t think we can necessarily say that just because we start after Labor Day results are going to drop.”
Minnesota school districts must apply for a waiver from the state education department if an education board wants to start the year prior to Labor Day, and state testing and event scheduling is concurrent with a post-Labor Day start date.
“The state of Minnesota has all of their school laws geared around that Labor Day start date,” said Steve Stofferahn, school board member. “In South Dakota it’s not. So the later we start, the less of a head start our kids have academically to get these tests done.”
Despite the concerns, the superintendent’s cabinet, comprised of staff and administration from the elementary, middle and high schools, agreed to endorse starting school on Aug. 27.
“We felt that was a compromise. But even that fourth week in August is still not the best choice because of some academic repercussions,” Wolff said.
Board member Troy Randall seconded board president Tom Morris’ motion to start school during the fourth week in August. Weiland was the lone nay vote.
The first semester of the 2014-2015 school year will conclude January 16, 2015, two weeks after Christmas break.