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Start Date Debate

August 27, 2012, 10:06 PM by Shawn Neisteadt

Start Date Debate
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

In 2006, South Dakota's largest school district moved the start of the school year up on the calendar, sending Sioux Falls students back to school in August.

The move came with a great deal of resistance and debate.  In fact, a group of parents even collected signatures to put the issue of a school start date to a statewide vote.  But a much quieter debate about that start date continues to this day.

Students at most districts across South Dakota got back into the routine of the school year last week, including in Sioux Falls where public schools opened their doors on Monday.

"I wish it would start after Labor Day because it starts too early," eighth grade student Tayler Palmer said.

Palmer would have been in just second grade when Sioux Falls schools made the significant jump, moving the start of the school year to mid-August.  She wishes this was still summer vacation time.

"I would at least put a petition up for it and have some people sign it so we could," Palmer said.

"I think they should have school start after Labor Day and the reason is because it is still hot, it is still warm.  So let the kids have August and let them go in June, you know.  It's cold in June," Gina Shaver said.

Shaver has children in sixth and eighth grade.  She too prefers the older system of a later start to the year.

But like just about anything out there, opinions do vary.  That means some Sioux Falls parents don't mind the kids going back to school in August.

"Well, the kids have to start some time.  It's inevitable so whenever they start is fine with me," Wayne LeBon said.

And the Sioux Falls School District says most parents are like LeBon.  District officials made the decision to move the school year start in 2006 based on academic reasons.  One of the top reasons to start class in August is to have the first half of the year wrapped up before students have an extended break at the end of December.

"We had committed to that and we've actually moved some things around so we're actually starting a week later than we did two or three years ago, but we're still getting done with the first semester prior to the Christmas break," Sioux Falls School District Business Manager Todd Vik said.

Vik says the district has found many more benefits to the early start as well.  Advanced Placement students have more time in the classroom before taking their college-level tests.  And, with semester tests before the holiday break, students need less review time.  And high school students have their test scores earlier, helping them with college applications.

"I understand that.  My kids are in middle school so I don't have to deal with that yet. I might feel different once they're in high school," Shaver said.

District officials also point out that the calendar committee, which does include parents, has built in other breaks for the students throughout the year.  That helps keep students interested.

"We think it lets them recharge their batteries and come back ready to learn," Vik said.

Yet, graduation for Sioux Falls schools still falls earlier than it used to, now one week before Memorial Day weekend.

"We like to go on our summer vacation in June versus July when it's a little hotter.  So it is nice to have them out earlier," LeBon said.

So while the district and parents see benefits, those who dislike the August start are still out there.  And after six years, the start date debate continues.

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