Evidently there’s some controversy brewing about school start and end dates. North Carolina has this ridiculous calendar law mandating that the school year for public schools must start no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26th and must end no later than the Friday closest to June 11th. Well, most public schools. It doesn’t apply to year-round schools. Or charter schools. Or cooperative innovative high schools. Or schools that have gotten a good cause weather related calendar waiver. But generally, for most public schools, these rules apply.
Of course, after last week’s weather, every parent knows where I’m going with this. The law doesn’t leave much wiggle room when we get hit with a storm and kids are out of school for a few days. The law also requires that the school year must be no less than 185 days or 1,025 hours, so the make-up days have to happen. But school districts can’t start the school year early or let it run late, so after a very small number of built in make up days at the end of the year, they have to start using Saturdays. Or spring break. Or extra time at the end of each school day. Nobody likes any of those options.
It also creates some terrible incentives. A couple weeks ago, when there was snow forecast, Johnston County schools announced on Monday night that, on Tuesday, they would be dismissing middle and high school students at 10:30am and elementary students at 11:00am. Yep, they decided IN ADVANCE to run all those buses, pick up all those kids, send them to school for maybe three hours, and then send them all home again. The reason for doing so is obvious. The three hours counted as one of those 185 days, thus no make up time. The decision didn’t have anything to do with what was in the educational interests of the children. It was a practical matter, a decision made by education bureaucrats who have their hands tied by the state.
There’s no reason that we can’t leave these decisions up to local school districts. After all, we’re already exempting year-round, charter, and cooperative innovative high schools, as well as any that the state decide merit a waiver. That isn’t causing mass chaos or a break-down in education. It doesn’t leave families unable to plan vacations. It just creates some more flexibility for those schools and relieves a bit of pressure when an unexpected winter storm or hurricane causes kids to miss more days than the General Assembly anticipated.
Changing the law would also allow school districts to move start and end dates for other reasons, if they so desired. For example, kids now take first semester exams after the Christmas break. If school districts could start a week earlier in August, they’d be able to avoid that. They wouldn’t HAVE to. They could keep the later start date and take exams in January, as they do now. The point isn’t that one start date is necessarily better than another. It’s just that those are decisions that should be left to local districts, not legislated from Raleigh. Local school boards are better able to assess the needs of their local communities and the desires of parents, and plan calendars accordingly. We should let them do that.