Pair of bills in state House would let local school districts say when classes start in N.C.

Pair of bills in state House would let local school districts say when classes start in N.C.

February 9th, 2023

Another push is underway to repeal a state law requiring schools to open no earlier than the Monday nearest August 25 and end the school year by the Friday closest to June 11.

The current law passed in 2004 was backed by the state’s tourism industry along the coast and in the mountains to address staffing issues that arise when students depart while business is still in peak season, and limits the ability of families from around the state from being able to vacation in August.

A number of school leaders across the state have been trying to have the law changed, saying it limits their ability to schedule end-of-semester exams before Christmas break, and hurts students who are dual-enrolled in community college courses.

While starting classes ahead of Labor Day has been the norm for Currituck and Dare counties since before the law was put in place, the school systems make adjustments like releasing classes early on Friday to avoid potential issues for buses due to increased traffic levels ahead of the weekend.

Members of northeastern North Carolina and the Outer Banks delegation to the N.C. General Assembly say they want local districts to have more flexibility in setting their calendars.

House Bill 62, “An Act to Do School Calendars Better”, was introduced Tuesday by Rep. Terence Everitt (D-Wake), and would eliminate any restrictions on local school districts setting their start and end dates for the school year.

On Thursday, House Bill 86, School Calendar Flex/Statewide, was introduced by Rep. Neal Jackson (R-Moore), Rep. Brian Briggs (R-Randolph), House Speaker Pro Tempore Sarah Stevens (R-Surry) and Rep. Donnie Loftus (R-Gaston) which would amend the current law to allow districts to start on the Monday closest to August 10 while keeping the June 11 closing date in place.

Bills that grant exceptions to specific counties or school districts have been run in the House in recent sessions, but have never made it out of the Senate.

Earlier this week, HB 51 was introduced that would let schools in Gaston, Moore, Randolph, Surry and Wilkes counties begin classes on August 10. And HB 70, filed on Wednesday, would do the same for schools in Halifax County.

Some districts have indicated they plan to ignore the law and start the 2023-24 school year on dates outside the current limits.

The Union County Board of Education initially approved an earlier start this August, but the school board has since rolled back the decision for the district located in Charlotte’s eastern suburbs.

In December, a legislative commission said they would rather give local boards more control on the calendar, rather than force systems to start on Tuesday after Labor Day as has been proposed by some members.

“The Committee finds that the current requirement that schools begin no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 and adjourn no later than the Friday closest to June 11 creates a school calendar that is not best suited to the needs of students and educators,” according to the report. “To better meet those needs, the Committee finds that local boards of education should be given greater calendar flexibility.”

At a legislative forum hosted by the Currituck Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Twiddy and Company in January, four of the five members representing northeastern North Carolina and the Outer Banks said they support ending the mandate.

Sen. Bobby Hanig (R-Currituck) and Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort) said that local schools systems need to have control on what’s best for their individual needs.

“For our (Senate) district, it’s maintaining the local authority,” Hanig said.

“Local boards, local counties, and school districts should run their schools as they see fit,” Kidwell said. “That’s the bottom line, I think we need to get the state out of running the school systems.”

“A lot of the complaints that I get…is that we are not in line with our community colleges, we’re not in line with our universities, everybody needs to be on the same calendar so that that does coincide, that we can continue to give our children the education that they deserve,” said Sen. Norm Sanderson (R-Pamlico).

“There has to be some parameters,” Sanderson said. “But I think they’re far too narrow, at this point. Even 10 days will make a huge difference in some of these districts.”

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