What happens when a local school board and the North Carolina General Assembly disagree on what’s best for students?
The Henderson County Board of Public Education is hoping the answer is ‘nothing,’ after voting Oct. 10 to declare its intention to break state law and start school two weeks early l next school year. The decision, Chairman Blair Craven said, is not “to break the rules just to break the rules,” but to have the Henderson County school calendar reflect college calendars.
“While I cannot condone anyone breaking the law, I have a high degree of sympathy for the Henderson County School Board to make improvements to the school calendar,” State Sen. Chuck Edwards said. “I can understand why, after their state government has repeatedly failed to listen to their needs, the school board is taking matters into their own hands.”
The school board votes:Henderson County School Board intends to violate state calendar law
Currently, state law dictates that a school calendar start date cannot be earlier than the Monday closest to August 26, unless a school has a special waiver. This start date pushes the end of the first semester to mid-January, making it incompatible with university calendars and, according to Craven, forcing teachers to have long revisions before final exams to catch up with students after winter break. .
“It’s not about wanting to keep kids in school longer, it’s about what’s best, especially for our high school students. It doesn’t really affect our colleges, our elementary schools, but for our high school students trying to get college credit, maybe trying to graduate early, go to college early, or starting work early is important,” said Craven.
Because the first semester of high school ends weeks after the second semester of college begins, students who wish to double enroll or graduate early cannot enroll in college courses in the second semester. By pushing back the start date, the management hopes to finish the first semester before the winter holidays.
Next year the first day school can legally start is Aug. 28, two weeks after the Aug. 14 start date the board directed Superintendent Mark Garrett to base the 2023-2024 schedule on. The board does not want to extend the school year, Craven said, because summer vacation is also expected to start two weeks earlier.
“We don’t need someone four or five hours away telling us what’s best for us here in Henderson County,” Craven said.
Now the superintendent will oversee two advisory councils made up of teachers and parents who will debate the exact dates of the future schedule and present it later this year for a first reading before the council. The board has until March 2023 to submit schedules to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
Other school districts in the state have also considered the change. Some, including neighboring Rutherford County, started early this school year. So far, no county has faced consequences from the state for its illegal schedules.
“The State Council does not have a written policy on what action to take if a LEA (local education agency) does not comply with calendar laws. The calendar law itself does not provide for any sanctions and the Council of State and the Department of Public Instruction are therefore limited in their authority and their ability to execute on this matter”, Allison Schafer, General Counsel of the Council of State of Education and Department of Public Instruction said in an email.
In June, the State Board of Education compiled a report for the General Assembly on start and end dates for all schools in North Carolina. Since that report, NCDPI spokesman Todd Silberman said there have been “no changes from the legislature or direction to the State Board of Education or the Department of Public Instruction” regarding the non-compliant local school boards.
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In the 2020-2021 school year, scheduling restrictions were lifted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Craven said, and Henderson County schools implemented whatever schedule they want for the 2023-2024 school year.
“It was great. We were able to start our semester on time. We were able to connect with our community colleges. All of the leaders…really wanted to have more connectivity with our local community colleges. So did we,” said Craven.
With the back restrictions in place, the board has been discussing violating state calendar statutes for the past two years, but without “the movement we’ve had this year,” Craven said the board doesn’t feel up to it. comfortable because he didn’t know what would happen. happen to those who have disobeyed.
“There were counties that were talking about it but hadn’t really implemented it. What would happen if you went against that? Would they keep a superintendent’s salary? Would they cut funding? We don’t want to do anything that can hurt our children,” Craven said. “As we dig into this, there are three or four school systems that are exactly on this schedule this school year, and nothing has happened.”
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Even if the state does not enforce the calendar law, Schafer said breaking it opens school boards up to lawsuits from individuals or groups seeking to overturn the calendar or seek damages.
“The repercussions of breaking the law can go beyond any possible action by the State Board of Education or the Department of Public Instruction,” she said. “We encourage our local school boards and local charter schools to stay within the legal limits imposed on them. Failure to do so may put them in legal danger.
Craven said he was “not very concerned” about state retaliation or potential prosecution.
“I think it’s just our job to do what we think is best for our students, and when something else happens, we will respond to it,” he said.
“I was frustrated that due to a long-standing and illogical rule in the Senate, we were unable to help (local school boards) legally achieve calendar goals that would better serve our students,” Edwards said.
The “longstanding and illogical rule,” Edwards said, is that no school calendar bill will be heard in the Senate. This rule was created by “frustrated leaders” after “huge requests from every school board wanting to do their own thing over the years.”
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The tourism industry is to blame, Craven said, because before they started lobbying, the first semester ended before the winter break. Part of the initial push to change the law came from the North Carolina Youth Camp Association, but he said after the board spoke with the association, he agreed the schedule proposed by the board was acceptable. .
“In fact, we have a letter that says they are okay with us from the third week or the second week of August, that it wouldn’t impact their camps because we don’t ‘re not going to babysit until June 10, like we do. now. We’ll let them out around the third week of May and they can start their summer vacation even earlier,” Craven said.
The North Carolina School Board Association has advocated for changes to state school calendar restrictions since at least 2004, according to executive director Leanne Winner. The language expected to be adopted by the council’s assembly of delegates this year notes that North Carolina is one of only two states to have mandated start and end dates for the school year.
“While the NCSBA is unable to comment on an individual school board’s schedule, we have long argued that local boards should be able to design a schedule that meets the educational needs of students in their school district,” said Winner.
Christian Smith is a reporter for the USA Today Network. Questions or comments? Contact him at[email protected] or (828) 274-2222.