School state dates |

School state dates

A common topic every August is why does school start so early in the fall, why doesn’t it start after Labor Day? Here is the recent history from our state.

To go back to civics 101, remember that an initiated measure is a grassroots effort that starts with the people. Citizens draft the proposal, petition to add it to the ballot and it gets voted on at the general election. Citizens who wish to change a state law can circulate petitions to get the issue onto the state ballot. The initiative process is clear. In South Dakota the number of valid registered voters’ signatures must meet or exceed 5 percent of all votes cast in the last general election to get an initiative on the ballot. Wise petition circulators obtain a few hundred additional signatures just in case some of them don’t hold up to the verification process at the secretary of state’s office.

In 1984, an initiative requiring that schools could not start until after Labor Day was on the ballot as Initiated Measure 2. It passed by 564 votes — enough to make it law. After a few years, Rapid City started making noises about possibly going to year round school, and to do that, the law had to be changed.

In 1993, the state legislature changed the law that had been fought for and won by the initiated measure. Of course, Rapid City had no intention of going to year around school, it was not mentioned again, and by 2022 it has not happened. Rapid City Schools just didn’t like the law. The legislator-altered law allowed local school boards to decide on local school start dates. It also said citizens can start a petition to compel the question to be put on the local school district ballot.

Sioux Falls schools took advantage of the petition process under the 1984 law, and in 2015, when 52 percent of voters agreed to starting school after Labor Day, for three years, 2016, 2017 and 2018. After surveys and haggling, the school board voted to start school in August for the 2019-20 school year. Within five years Sioux Falls had three different school calendars for start and end dates as well as when the semester ends, before or after Christmas break. Apparently, the question is not settled.

The public tried again in 2006. Initiative Measure 3 on the Nov. 7, 2006 statewide general election ballot, read in part, “No regular school term may begin prior to the last day of August.” It was soundly defeated. The vote was 56.9% against and 43.1% in favor.

School calendars are complicated. Sports are just one aspect. The South Dakota High School Activities Association does the scheduling for activities and that office sets the calendars for two years at a time. This group decides on dates and locations for all-state orchestra, chorus, and journalism, in addition to sports.

Then there are negotiations between teachers, school board, and administration that enter in to the calendar discussions. Setting the calendar is not an easy process with many aspects and opinions of so many people involved.


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