Recovering From Florence: The Critical Need to Restore School Calendar Flexibility
Elizabeth Yelverton | NCASA
Hurricane Florence has brought devastation to many communities in North Carolina, including our statewide school community. Several schools have experienced flooding or water damage, fallen trees, leaking roofs, surrounding roads swamped with debris, and days without power. These hazardous conditions have forced closures for student and staff safety in many school districts, with some schools unsure of when it will even be possible to reopen.
Image Courtesy of NC Local Calendar Coalition
While the majority of schools in North Carolina have resumed classes, several schools are still assessing damage from the storm, as flood levels continue to rise. In hard-hit communities, safety must remain the top priority, even if students must miss quality instructional time.
The crisis presented by Hurricane Florence has highlighted the need for the State to restore school calendar flexibility in order to allow local communities to adjust their school calendars based on their specific needs. Current state law requires schools to be in session for 185 days per year, or to provide 1,025 instructional hours during nine calendar months, but lawmakers have granted waivers for long-term school closures in the past, most recently after Hurricane Matthew. The provision in the Hurricane Matthew disaster relief bill exempted any school district closed for more than two days due to the hurricane from having to make up all missed instructional days, instead allowing these districts to only make up two days.
In a letter to lawmakers, the Governor, the State Superintendent, and the State Board of Education Chairman, ten school districts in southeastern NC formally reached out to seek a waiver from school calendar requirements for the 2018-19 year.
The North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) has learned that lawmakers are already making plans to call a special session, possibly in October, to address much needed hurricane relief, including school calendar waivers to excuse missed instructional days for hard-hit school systems.
In a statement regarding legislative relief for storm victims, House Speaker Tim Moore stated he supports waiving school calendar requirements in order to “assist regions of North Carolina where students were missing significant class time.”
Speaker Moore continued, “[W]e don’t need to have kids who may be missing schools for weeks at a time, trying to make that up for weeks into the summer. I think that’s unreasonable. I think we need some accommodation on that, on the school calendar. That’s something I support and believe we can take care of.”
NC Speaker Tim Moore toured hard-hit counties with other state and federal officials last week.
NCASA expressed appreciation for Speaker Moore’s leadership on the calendar relief issue, and hopes that Speaker Moore and other lawmakers will ultimately also support restoring local calendar flexibility to all school districts as a longer-term solution. Restoring local flexibility in school calendars is crucial in allowing school districts to address emergency crises, such as the ongoing crisis brought by Hurricane Florence, as well as local community and student needs, on their own, without the need for special legislative actions.
As devastating as Hurricane Florence was and continues to be for many North Carolina communities, the storm recovery process has brought to light various ways in which we can continue to shape our legislative policies in order to provide the most assistance to communities recovering from natural disasters. This discussion must include restoring local calendar flexibility in order to provide a long-term solution for school communities which are currently recovering, as well as school communities in the future.