RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – It’s official: The North Carolina House is considering a bill that would allow school boards across the state to choose when to start and end a school year.

Rep. Neal Jackson (R-Robbins), who represents a portion of Randolph County, said Monday that he now had filed House Bill 86 to make it a statewide effort to provide flexibility. He said the new bill had “45 bipartisan cosponsors.”

This started out as a “local bill,” House Bill 51, and addressed seven school districts – including five in the Piedmont Triad – but after the bill passed on first reading last Tuesday, Jackson told WGHP that so many counties had reached out to him that he would refile as a statewide bill on Thursday, which he did.

Students hurry toward their school building for classes after disembarking a school bus.

House Bill 86 presumably would follow the path of its local cousin and start first in the Education/Higher Ed Committee and work its way to the floor, although it had not as of Monday afternoon had its first reading.

The House and Senate reconvened Monday afternoon after a long weekend break, but no committee meetings were scheduled.

“We filed this as a local bill because that’s so much easier to pass,” Jackson said. “But about 35 districts responded and asked to be part of it. So we are going to refile as a statewide bill, and we’ll probably have 50 counties sign on.”

The language in his new bill is the same as in the original and provides for local school boards to determine the opening and closing dates for school sessions by changing the dates specified in state statute by about two weeks.

The bill allows that schools could open on the Monday closest to Aug. 10 instead of the current requirement of Aug. 26. The closing date could remain the Friday closest to June 11, but “a local board may revise the scheduled closing date if necessary in order to comply with the minimum requirements for instructional days or instructional time.”

Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Mount Airy) (NCGA)
State Rep. Brian Biggs (R-Trinity) (NCGA)
Rep. Neal Jackson (R-Robbins) (NCGA)

Jackson was joined as a sponsor by District 70 Rep. Brian Biggs (R- Trinity), District 90 Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Mount Airy) and Rep. Donnie Loftis (R-Gaston).

“We are hoping to pass this through the House quickly and get the Senate to take it up,” Jackson said last week. “This passed the House in 2020 but died in the Senate.”

The bill says the change would take effect for the 2023-24 school year and apply only to schools on traditional calendars. It also specifies that if a fall semester were to conclude before Dec. 31 – an issue some parents have raised – school districts “may administer assessments prior to the conclusion of that semester.”

Wide-ranging support

Biggs said last week that he believes “in giving flexibility to districts because they best understand the needs of their students and staff.

“We can allow flexibility and still maintain that an adequate number of instructional days are met,” he wrote to WGHP. “This bill would allow for districts to get on the same calendar as the college and university systems, should they choose to do so. We are supporting the bill and proudly signed on as a primary sponsor.”

Jackson’s reference to bipartisan co-sponsors is an expansion of how the bill began. The original bill had six representatives from the Triad – including at least two Democrats – who signed on with support, but that has now grown to 12: Reps. Kanika Brown (D-Winston-Salem), Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro), Julia C. Howard (R-Mocksville), Larry Potts (R-Lexington), Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem), Ray Pickett (R-Blowing Rock), Larry Potts (R-Lexington), Dennis Riddell (R-Snow Camp), Stephen Ross (R-Burlington), Wayne Sasser (R-Albermarle) and Jeff Zenger (R-Lewisville).

State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro)

“I think I’ve signed on to every school calendar flexibility bill that’s been filed since the NCGA mucked with school board authority to set schedules,” Harrison wrote in a text message to WGHP last week.

Harrison has served in the House since 2008, and she was referring to the existing law, which was adopted in 2004 at the request of the tourism industry and parents to set the hard dates of Aug. 26 and June 10.

That statute has been in the parallax of legislators often because it took away local autonomy for circumstances that are not identical from the Manteo in the East to Murphy in the West.

Change has been recommended

In a draft report published in December, The House Select Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future had recommended allowing flexibility for school boards.

“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,” the report states. “To better meet those needs, the Committee finds that local boards of education should be given greater calendar flexibility.

“The Committee recommends that the General Assembly take action and change the school calendar law.”

During that committee’s evaluation, Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) had recommended a school year that began on Labor Day (the first Monday in September) and ended on Memorial Day (the last Monday in May), The News & Observer reported.

Some boards have intervened

WFAE in Charlotte reported that school districts in Gaston, Cleveland and Rutherford counties had ignored the law and opened earlier last summer.

In Gaston County, a poll of parents found that 70% wanted the first semester to end before winter break (it now ends the third week of January), the radio station reported, because of block scheduling. HB 51 ostensibly would address that issue.

But in Union County, a vote last month by the school board to start the next school year on Aug. 9 drew a lawsuit by two parents, The Charlotte Observer reported.

One of the parents cited the negative financial impact on horse-riding camps she operates. The suit said the violation of state law could constitute a misdemeanor crime by board members.

Guilford County calendars

The Guilford County Board of Education had gone through an extensive process of gathering public input before approving on Tuesday night traditional academic calendars for the next three years.

The board said it had received 194 comments about the calendars, which adhere to state laws for start and end dates and exceed the state requirement of 1,025 instructional hours and meet other state requirements, such as 185 days of instruction, teacher contracts, 11 state holidays and no classes on Sunday.

The calendar also says that administrators plan to use the allowed five remote learning days allowed for emergency purposes and “to waive any additional make-up days for students if the state’s minimum hourly requirement for instructional hours is met.”