Community members cheered a move by Regional School Unit 21 Superintendent Dr. Terri Cooper to revise her originally proposed start date for the coming school year, which had been in late August, before Labor Day.

Per the new calendar, the first day of school will be Sept. 3 after the holiday on Sept. 2allowing students who work in local businesses to clock more hours during the busy holiday weekend and give students more time with their families.

The first day of school in RSU 21 will be Sept. 3 – after the Labor Day holiday – allowing students who work in local businesses to clock more hours during the holiday weekend and give students more time with their families. Dan King file

While student voices did not feature all that prominently in the discussion around the calendar, the School Board’s two student representatives, David Rush and Lorien Shulte, indicated they were supportive of a pre-Labor Day start.

Students grades 1-9 will start on Sept. 3, and students grades 10-12 will begin the day after, and students in pre-K and kindergarten will begin on Sept. 5, Cooper said during the most recent School Board meeting on April 1.

Teachers will have two professional development days the week prior.

There will be 180 instructional days and the school year will end on June 17. There will also be 184 “Teacher Days,” i.e. instructional days and any professional development or parent teacher conference days.


Under the originally proposed calendar, the school year would have begun on Monday, Aug. 26, for teachers and two days later, Aug. 28, for some students.

Laura Dolce, the executive director of the Kennebunk Kennebunkport Arundel Chamber of Commerce who had been a proponent of revising the schedule, applauded the decision on Facebook, writing “as members of the business community, we’re grateful to Dr. Cooper and the board for making the busy Labor Day week a little easier on staffing. Hearing from so many concerned parents (and teachers) certainly carried the most weight in this discussion.”

By Maine law, RSU 21 must have at least 175 student instructional days. But RSU 21 has taken the step of adding five additional days, a decision that Cooper described it as an “investment” in the “educational journey” of students at the March 18 school board meeting.

Cooper had rationalized the pre-Labor Day start by saying it was necessary to fit in those 180 instructional days, minimize friction when coordinating with other districts, and allow for potential inclement weather days. But at the outset of the calendar discussion at the March School Board meeting, she made it clear she knew the decision was unpopular.

“I understand that many of you are upset and frustrated with the decision to start the calendar before Labor Day. This was noted by the 25, 30 emails that were forwarded to the board and to myself,“ said Cooper.

Opposition to the earlier start largely coalesced around three grievances: that local businesses would lose labor, that RSU 21 buildings can be uncomfortably hot at the end of summer, and that an earlier start would eat into family time before the beginning of the school year.


During the March 18 meeting, Dolce shared that she had sent around a survey to community members (over 500 people registered a response), who overwhelmingly expressed a preference for an after-Labor Day start.

“We heard from a lot of parents who said that the early start cuts into family time … They said they felt frustrated that our district already has five more days (instructional days), that came up quite a bit. And they said they are really worried about their children being in hot classrooms without air conditioning,” she said. “And of course, we heard from businesses, a lot of the businesses said that they’ll lose their entire staff.”

Dolce said those employers ranged from KPort Bagel to the Kennebunk Fire Department, who worried there would be fewer lifeguards to staff the beach. She put the number of students working in the community in the hundreds.  Adolescents in general have joined the Maine workforce in much higher numbers in recent years, according to 2022 reporting from the Press Herald. This is also a trend seen nationally.

Per Maine labor law, minors under 16 can only work a maximum of three hours a day on school days, for a maximum of 18 hours a week during any given school week. Minors who are 16 and 17 have higher max hours. They’re allowed to work a max of six hours on a school day, and 24 hours in a week during a school week with three or more school days scheduled. Minors are allowed to work more hours when school is not in session.

For years, local businesses could rely on teens working more hours in a week through Labor Day, according to Dolce, but that changed when the schedule was moved to before Labor Day in September 2021.

Dolce said that since the shift took place, the business community has been “trying to have that conversation” with the school district. Dolce indicated that it became an especially hot-button issue this year with Labor Day falling so early in September.


She said that in some years, when Labor Day is later in September, people realize it doesn’t make sense to tie the beginning of school to the holiday – but that’s not the case this year.

Others at the March 18 meeting echoed Dolce’s comments.

“We’re a large employer of a lot of the students and staff members here,” said Tina Hewett-Gordon, the general manager of the Nonantum Resort. “I know that you’ve been beaten over the head this evening about hearing about all of the ways that starting before Labor Day negatively impacts our business. It really does … If there’s something that you can do, we urge you to please do this, because it makes such a difference to our business and to our community,” she said.

RSU 21 does not have central AC in most of its buildings, according to School Board Chair Erin Nadeau, and the start of the school year can be uncomfortably hot for students and teachers.

Rachel McCarthy, a teacher at Sea Road School, shared during the March 18 meeting that she has experienced 90-degree days in the building.

“I had multiple trays of ice cubes and plastic bags, and I was bringing those to my children who were putting them on their neck, putting them on their head. They are not learning when it is that hot,” she said.


Some expressed that a post-Labor Day start date would help fix the problem. “August/early September are too hot for teachers and we don’t have AC accommodations for staff or kids (which is a health issue),” wrote one respondent to Dolce’s survey.

The School Board voted at the March meeting to allow Cooper some time to see if there was a way to change the schedule. During the discussion, it became clear that moving school to start after Labor Day was possible if RSU 21 negotiated a new coordinated schedule with districts in the area (RSU 21 coordinates the school calendar with nearby districts in order to accommodate students who attend regional tech centers). Cooper said at the April 1 meeting that she was able to successfully coordinate the new start date with other districts to remove any conflicts.

Ed Sklanka of Kennebunkport said “I’m here as a grandparent again, and I’m here to say thank you. All of you listened and you came up with a solution. And I think you should all be commended for that. I sincerely appreciate it from the standpoint of a grandparent, because the time is precious. Those couple of days may not seem like a lot, but they will be a lot”

Others, including RSU 21 parent and local business owner Paul Humphrey echoed the same. “As far as community-school board … relations (go), it’s really good to be seen listening to the people,” he said.

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