School Boards Should Set Calendars


March 7, 2019

Several bills have been introduced in the General Assembly that would let local school districts establish their own calendars. Elected officials have sponsored bills that would provide “calendar flexibility” just for districts they represent; House Bill 12 would exempt just the Alamance-Burlington school system. A few bills, however, call for allowing all school systems “calendar flexibility.”

Under pressure from the tourism industry, in 2004, the General Assembly passed a statewide law stating that public schools can start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11.

From its very inception, the law was badly flawed and hypocritical. The purpose of our public school system is to educate students to prepare them to become successful citizens with fulfilled lives. It is not to support the state’s tourism industry. In fact, people in the tourism industry – people who have no expertise in education, who have no experience running a school system, who have not been elected to administer our schools, who have no responsibility for the educational outcomes of students in our schools – should have no more say regarding school calendars than any individual citizen.

One apparent reason for passing the 2004 law was to “save our summers.” In effect, the law has shortened the summers for many students. Many high school students participate in band, football, soccer, tennis, cheerleading and other extracurricular activities, which begin on Aug. 1, some three weeks before school begins. By starting the school year later, the school year ends later, decreasing the amount of summer vacation these students and their families have. By comparison, Brevard County schools in Florida will start on Monday, Aug. 12, this year but will conclude on Thursday, May 28, 2020, giving their students who participate in fall extracurricular activities a week to 10 days more of summer vacation than Transylvania County students.

The law also shortens the summer for students who dual enroll in community college courses. Many students at Brevard and Rosman high schools take classes at Blue Ridge Community College. Those BRCC classes will begin on Aug. 15.

It also harms student learning and educational performance. Many students, especially minorities and low-income students, experience summer learning loss. Due to a lack of time reading and the use of other academic skills, many students regress during the summer, sometimes losing up to three months worth of academic gains. At the high school level, students miss two weeks of school at winter break just prior to taking their first semester exams. This negatively impacts student performance on first semester tests. (Some teachers use the two weeks between winter break and the first semester exams to review material, but that means two weeks of learning new material is lost.)

In addition, the current calendar law is in complete opposition to the General Assembly’s larger view of education. In the past several years, the General Assembly has emphasized that “one size does not fit all,” and has supported diverting money from traditional public schools to charter schools, private schools, virtual schools, etc. If “one size does not fit all” is an overall educational concept, then why should a “one size fits all” school calendar approach be acceptable?

In fact, the state’s support of year-round, charter and private schools undermines the statewide calendar concept. Brevard Academy starts a week earlier in August and concludes the year by the end of May. Why shouldn’t Pisgah Forest Elementary School, which is less than a mile from Brevard Academy, not have the same options for beginning and ending the school year? There is no sound educational reason why they should not.

The current statewide school calendar law shortens, not lengthens, the summer for many high school students; it negatively impacts learning for minority and low-income students; and it takes away authority from those who are most responsible for the education of students, the local school boards.

As Dennis Riddell, a Republican representative from Alamance County, recently said, “We think it (the school calendar) should be decided locally by duly elected school boards.”


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