Yukon’s education minister is giving rural schools the choice of two start dates for the next school year.

Rural schools have until March 22 to choose a start date of either Aug. 21 or Sept. 4.

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Yukon Education Minister Scott Kent is giving rural schools the choice of two start dates for the next school year. (CBC)

The department says having two common start dates, instead of 15 different calendars, will allow it to expand the number of electives at rural schools by offering distance education.

"This is the most cost-effective way that we can deliver those opportunities out to our students," said Minister Scott Kent.

In addition to the common start dates, the department is also requiring that each student attend school for a minimum of 180 days per year.

The department says students at Whitehorse schools can choose from about 40 electives and 10 or more trades courses, where most rural schools have less than 10 elective courses and significantly fewer trades courses.

Eighty per cent of students in Whitehorse graduate from high school, compared to 61 per cent of rural students.

In Whitehorse, elementary schools will start on Aug. 21 and secondary schools will start Sept. 4.

Michelle Dubois, a parent in Dawson City, took part in talks about revising the school year and said she is not buying the government reasoning.

"They left us six possibilities which we looked at and we said, ‘Wow, none of the above is actually acceptable for Dawson.’"

She said Dawson City students need a shorter school year to take advantage of a long summer work season.

Many of the students' families work placer claims and they begin operations out of town in the spring.

School council chair Sue Lancaster says the department wants to increase the number of school days which would severely affect attendance.

"It means we're going well into June, at least a week into June if not more," she said. "And we've got students who go off with their mining families by the end of May, and they push it to stick around for those last few days of May, already. They won't stick around into June." 

New Democratic Party education critic Jim Tredger said the school calendar issue was a missed opportunity for the minister and his department to work co-operatively with the communities.

He said if they are relying on technology, government could be more creative.

"Through distance learning we should have more flexibility, and our calendars should be more flexible so that people can learn from different places and in different ways, not narrow it down and force everyone into one way of doing things," he said.

Tredger, a former teacher, said he doesn’t think the government plan will work.

He said by squeezing more schooling into the colder, darker months, students could learn more. Now with it spread out, there'll be more days inside when long hours of sun outdoors will cause students’ minds to wander.