RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — While members of the state House of Representatives pushed again this week for local school leaders to have more flexibility to decide when to start and end the year, Senate leaders shot down that idea once again.
The House passed bills on Wednesday in a nearly unanimous vote to give various school districts more authority to make that decision.
Under current law, school districts can’t start any earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and can end no later than the Friday closest to June 11.
While the battle over this is not new, some school districts recently have begun adopting school calendars in violation of the state law.
“The communities at the beach, where maybe it doesn’t work for them, fine. Let them start (later), give them the flexibility they want. But, for those of us in the other parts of the state where we see a need, let the folks start then,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).
There are some school districts that qualify for an exemption, such as those in the western part of the state that tend to experience more snow days than the rest of North Carolina.
But, a few school districts, including those that Moore represents in Cleveland and Rutherford counties, have chosen to start earlier in August than what state law allows.
Moore said earlier start dates help K-12 schools align with community colleges and can help address issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic as kids try to catch up.
When the law initially went into effect nearly 20 years ago, there were concerns by some parents and leaders in the tourism industry that some school districts were making their start dates too early in the summer.
Moore said he now feels the law was “an overreaction.”
Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) disagrees, adding his chamber won’t take up the calendar bills the House passes.
“I don’t see where there’s a need to change the calendar law, except maybe to beef up the enforcement mechanisms for local systems that ignore the law,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s a particular bill that would do that, but I would think from my perspective that’s probably the only change that would need to be made.”
Moore said he won’t support punishing any of the school districts that violate the law, describing the situation as “a dual impasse.”
While the legislature may not address the issue, there could still be consequences for schools that defy the calendar law.
The school board in Union County voted in December to start next school year earlier, but the board members reversed that decision in January after a lawsuit was filed against it. Among the plaintiffs was a horse riding business owner who said their ability to hold summer camps would be impacted by the calendar change, according to WJZY in Charlotte.
“I would like to apologize for not upholding what I know is the right thing to do,” said board member the Rev. John J. Kirkpatrick in January.
But, some board members stuck by their original votes.
“This board has nothing to apologize for. This board knew what we were voting on,” said board member the Rev. Jimmy H. Bention Sr.