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NC leaders consider new school year calendar to better meet needs of students, teachers

The committee’s report says to better meet the needs of districts, they believe local boards of education should have flexibility when school starts and ends.

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — A North Carolina House Select Committee is recommending the General Assembly change a state law forcing districts to start school the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11. 

It’s been a hot topic in the Charlotte region. 

Several school boards in the area have led the wave of districts defying the state law and starting the school year weeks before it's allowed. 

Behind the committee's recommendation 

The House Select Committee on Education System for North Carolina’s Future concluded, “The Committee finds that the current requirement that schools begin no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 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. To better meet those needs, the Committee finds that local boards of education should be given greater calendar flexibility to better meet those needs, the Committee finds that local boards of education should be given greater calendar flexibility.” 

The finding was just one of six from the committee. 

"Calendar flexibility has long been talked about and is sorely overdue for a number of reasons," Rep. David Willis, a committee member from Union County, said. 

The main reasons are to align schools' calendars with local community colleges and allow for state testing to happen prior to the holiday break. 

The committee’s report says to better meet the needs of districts, they believe local boards of education should have flexibility when school starts and ends.

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Gaston County Rep. John Torbett, who chairs the committee, says there would need to be some structure. 

"There is a great conversation around flexibility for each and every LEA [local education agency]," Torbett said. "But then again, you give the opportunity for 115 different calendars." 

What could change 

The school calendar law dates back to 2004 and was lobbied and organized heavily by the travel and tourism industry. These industries argued not having a consistent start date harmed the economy by preventing things like family vacations, participation in summer camps, and summer employment.

Before the law was put into place, districts across the state had different start and end dates. The committee discussed the recommendation for the calendar change briefly. 

WCNC Charlotte spoke with Torbett after the meeting about the direction he wants to see a new school calendar law take. 

"I'm proposing that we go to a holiday-to-holiday type calendar, which is Memorial Day to Labor Day," Torbett said.

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Labor Day, the first Monday in September of each year, is a national holiday, and Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May.

"I initially had that language in the document, but I did pull it early this week or late last week because it was just too finite," Torbett said. 

Torbett said his idea would require starting school later, but it would also shorten the required school days. 

He believes it's a first step to transforming education to work for kids. 

"You can compress more information in a smaller amount of time," Torbett said. "A smaller amount of time would be better useful information than they currently get in the hours that are applied today."

Currently, the school calendar must cover at least nine calendar months, have a minimum of 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction, and must have at least nine teacher workdays.

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Torbett's plan would change that. 

"A lot of times you'll have temps in the room, you might not have an educational day, you'll have a movie day," Torbett said. "We just really need to focus on all of that, to focus on educating children in the most compressed time maximizing assets." 

His plan would also lead again to a required start and stop date. 

"I think we need to have a statewide calendar," Torbett said. "So we can equally make sure that each and every child is meeting the same type of growth and achievement that's required in the future workforce or in the future of professional training in one field of danger or another." 

Prior to the recommendations of the select committee, leaders from school districts spoke out about Torbett's plan. 

"Anything that would shorten the school year and take away days of instruction, I just don't think this is the right time in history as where our kids are still -- it's going to take us a few years to catch back up after all the interruption from COVID," Elyse Dashew, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board chair, said at a meeting in November.

North Carolina school districts respond

It’s not clear how popular Torbett’s school calendar law change would be with local districts. Many of them have pushed for earlier start dates or for the state to leave the start dates up to them within reason. 

Torbett said his proposal requires people to not apply current school calendar law to the merits of his proposed changes. 

"Don't use what's happening in the existing system, use what you think would be the best to educate our children from this day forward," Torbet said. 

The recommendation from the select committee will be reviewed by lawmakers and state education leaders and could become a catalyst for legislation in the upcoming session. 

Union County Schools became the largest district in North Carolina to defy state law by starting school almost three weeks before state law allows in a board vote on Tuesday. 

But they’re not the only ones. 

Gaston, Cabarrus, and Iredell-Statesville Schools are just some of the schools in the Charlotte area that also voted to circumvent the law. 

Despite some board members being against it, on Monday, Iredell-Statesville Schools ultimately voted to start on Aug. 14, 2023. 

"I just want to clarify that I personally support the early calendar schedule," Abby Trent, ISS School Board Member said. "However, the North Carolina law is very clear." 

Several other board members agreed with Trent's assessment. 

"We took an oath last week to follow the law," Trent said. "I can't knowingly vote for something that is against the law."

ISS now joins three other districts in our area that have made the decision to start early. 

"Students would have a chance to start college when they finish that first semester, they wouldn't have to wait two weeks to take their exams," Charles Kelly, ISS School Board Vice-Chairman said.  

The decision to start early means districts will do state testing before students go on winter break.

Contact Shamarria Morrison at smorrison@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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