Legislators who want to change state law that dictates the start and end dates for public schools are hoping there is power in numbers, just not the ones with dollar signs in front of them.
Since 2004, school districts have had to plan school calendars within strict windows for when the academic year can start and stop: the opening date for students may be no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26; the closing date may be no later than the Friday closet to June 11. School officials say it gives them very little flexibility when planning their calendars, and they’d like more.
“We used to have quite a bit of flexibility when we would start … and when we would stop,” said Theo Helm, a spokesman for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. “A lot of that has been taken away with recent changes to the calendar law.
“As it is now, we are very limited about when we can start and when we can finish.”
At least 17 bills related to school calendars have been filed this session, all currently sitting in committees. Some of those apply to specific counties, while others would apply statewide. House Bill 64, filed by three members of the Forsyth County delegation, would allow Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to coordinate school-year start and end dates with the local community-college calendar. Republican Reps. Donny Lambeth and Debra Conrad and Democrat Rep. Ed Hanes added language that would allow the local system to align its calendar with Forsyth Tech.
Hanes said he has seen more bills addressing the school calendar this year and the issue is picking up steam. In past years, most school calendar bills haven’t gotten very far. The school calendar law has support from the tourism industry, which wants families to have time to spend money on summer vacations, and groups like Save Our Summers, which says summer breaks are important for families.
“My No. 1 concern is kids learning,” Hanes said, “not kids going on vacation.”
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools operates two programs – Early College and Middle College – on the Forsyth Tech campus that offer students access to community college courses while still in high school. Generally, Forsyth Tech starts one or two weeks ahead of Forsyth County Schools, finishes the first semester before winter break and ends the school year in mid-May, nearly a month ahead of local elementary, middle and high schools. House Bill 64 would allow the district to follow Forsyth Tech’s schedule.
The school calendar law has the support of groups like the North Carolina Travel and Tourism Coalition and the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the NCRLA, represents thousands of hotels and restaurants across the state. Many of those are small businesses, she said, which do the bulk of their business during summer tourism.
“Many of those small businesses are very dependent on travelers and tourists who come to our state,” Minges said. “Making sure we’re doing all we can to shore up their business in vital to their continued success.”
Minges said that while this is particularly true for mountain and coastal counties, the school calendar law impacts business in all 100 counties and her group wants to see it continue.
“The current requirements… work pretty well,” Minges said. “We’d like to see educators work within those guidelines that the law has provided.