Reclaiming Calendar Flexibility: Doing What’s Right For Students

Calendar flexibility is an issue that received much more attention in this last school year, and for good reasons.

By 2017, North Carolina was one of only one of 14 states that had state laws that governed school calendars. The graphic below is from the Feb. 2017 Final Report to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee on school calendars.

school calendar

What is also shows is that North Carolina was at the time was one of the TWO states in the entire country whose laws dictated when a school could start and when it had to end.

200 bills have been introduced in the NCGA and none have made it past committee in a legislature that had a super-majority  in six years of the last seven years because of opposition from another industry.

Now, some school systems are taking matters into their own hands.

Ann Doss Helms, now of WFAE, posted a report about two systems who are already getting students into schools ahead of the “state” mandate.

Normally there’s nothing controversial about kids going back to school in August. But in a handful of North Carolina districts near Charlotte, local leaders are defying state law – or at least stretching it – to roll their buses early. 

North Carolina’s school calendar law mandates that public schools open “no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26.”

Yet public schools in Iredell County opened last week.  After years of grousing about the calendar law, Mooresville and Iredell-Statesville schools and a handful of other districts near Charlotte have decided not to obey it.

“We decided that we should be able to make something like a calendar be local,” said Tanae McLean, Mooresville’s chief communications officer. “We should be making a decision, along with our community and our parents, on what’s best for our children here in Mooresville, because we know what’s best for them.”

A rebellion appears to be rising 15 years after North Carolina’s General Assembly passed its calendar law, which was pushed by the tourism industry. Other school systems that started this week or last week are Lincoln CountyAnson County and Kannapolis city schools.

The loophole that is being used? “Several smaller districts have now decided that optional summer school should count as year-round status.” And schools that have year-round schooling are exempt from the state mandate.

Those systems who are opening early are right to do so.

They need to have the ability as local school systems to be able to have exams done before the winter break instead of having the “fall” semester end the day before Groundhog Day.

They need to have the flexibility to not have to consider forgiving days of school because of weather and other natural occurrences.

They need to have the flexibility to allow for schools to plan for professional development and workdays that actually help teachers prepare.

They need to have flexibility to allow schools to not have to start classes until after two football games have been played.

Just because lawmakers like Phil Berger want to sit on their backsides and refuse to offer counter proposals to Gov. Cooper’s budget compromise doesn’t mean that we stop doing what we do: advocate for students and public schools.