Nearly 50 Minn. school districts get waivers to start early

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. - Katherine Maus' state fair experience is coming to an abrupt end this weekend. Her school district, Melrose, has joined the list of early starters.

"We start Monday the 25th," said Maus, as she looked after her Holstein heifer, Turbo, in the fair's cattle barn.

"I don't like it. I liked when we started after Labor Day," she said.

In deference to the fair and Minnesota's tourism, state law forbids schools from starting before Labor Day without a waiver from the Minnesota Department of Education.

This year, nearly 50 of the state's 339 school districts have received one.

"We're starting a week earlier," said Edina's superintendent of schools Rick Dressen.

Edina's waiver was for summer construction. Other schools have been granted waivers under a flexible learning provision.

If it were up to Dressen, the law would be repealed altogether.

"We do think it's a better time for learning," said Dressen. "We really want to have that independence and let the school district make a determination when to start school."

First grader Linus Kottke will be heading back to his Minneapolis school on Monday too. Minneapolis also received a construction waiver.

He says he's ready. "I think it's going to be good."

But given a choice, Linus' parents would vote for more summer. "I think you can't get enough, after such a long winter it's nice to keep going," said Erin Kottke, Linus's mom.

She brought up last year, when Linus went to his first day of kindergarten only to stay home the next two days because intense heat closed the schools.

Jerry Hammer, the fair's general manager, says tourism would suffer statewide if the law were repealed. Northern Minnesota resorts insist Labor Day weekend business would take a huge hit if more schools opened before the holiday weekend.

"When you cut the pins out of tourism, that's a significant source of funding," said Hammer. "There's a really negative impact there."

Hammer also touts the fair's educational opportunities, calling the fair "the biggest, best field trip anywhere."

Katherine Maus plans to spend the first few days in schools, before returning to the fair with her parents.

"I want to represent Stearns County and watch the butter head be carved," she said.


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