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Gaston County Schools start earlier, are they following the law?

Gaston County Schools start Wednesday, while Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and other districts won't start until Aug. 29.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Students in Gaston County Schools return to the classroom Wednesday, Aug. 17, for the first day of school, while Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and others in the Charlotte area don't start until Aug. 29. 

WCNC Charlotte's VERIFY team has received a lot of questions from viewers asking why schools in Gaston County can start early. Those questions come after a VERIFY story explained CMS couldn't start until the end of August because of North Carolina law. 

The state statute says North Carolina schools can have a start date no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and an end date no later than the Friday closest to June 11. 

However, there are some exemptions such as charter schools, cooperative innovative high schools, year-round schools, and schools with weather-related calendar waivers. 

Many viewers were wondering why Gaston County can start earlier since the district doesn't fall under those exemptions. 

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School districts submitted their calendars to the General Assembly back in June. Gaston County Schools submitted a start date of Aug. 17 and an end date of May 24. 

In an email, the Gaston County school district's press secretary said the school board approved those dates because they line up with what parents and teachers want. 

However, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction said, "Such action is not allowed under the law."

So what happens next? 

Allison Schafer, the general counsel for the NCDPI said it's not perfectly clear. 

"The state board does not have a written policy for what steps to take if any local agency does not comply with calendar laws," Schafer said. "The repercussions for failing to follow the law can go beyond any possible actions by the State Board of Education or Department of Public Instruction. For example, impacted individuals or groups can bring lawsuits against a local board to require the board to comply with the law and/or seek damages. "

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VERIFY emailed Gaston County Schools asking if they requested an exemption or whether the state has contacted them about their start date. We are waiting to hear back. 

Contact Meghan Bragg at mbragg@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

VERIFY is dedicated to helping the public distinguish between true and false information. The VERIFY team, with help from questions submitted by the audience, tracks the spread of stories or claims that need clarification or correction. Have something you want VERIFIED? Text us at 704-329-3600 or visit VERIFY. 

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