House K-12 Education Committee Discusses Local Calendar Flexibility Bills
Elizabeth Yelverton | NCASA Legal Affairs & Policy Manager
In its first meeting of the 2019-2020 Session, the House K-12 Education Committee discussed two school calendar flexibility bills, bringing to light both old and new arguments surrounding the current school calendar law. Committee members discussed House Bill 12, which would provide complete calendar flexibility for Alamance-Burlington Schools, as well as House Bill 13, which would allow LEAs in Catawba and Davie counties to align their school calendars with the calendars of local community colleges. The committee chairs decided to postpone voting on the two bills, instead allowing legislative staff to provide background information on the current calendar law and acknowledging bill sponsors to speak briefly on their bills.
The current state law mandates students must be in school for a minimum of 185 days, or 1,025 hours of instruction, per year. The law places strict limits on the start and end date for non-year-round schools, stating schools must start no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26, and must end before June 11. The law does not apply to year-round schools, restart schools, and certain other schools. As of February 2017, North Carolina was only one of 14 states that prescribed when the public school calendar must begin.
State lawmakers first enacted requirements for the length of time students were required to attend schools in 2004. This law included a mandated start date of no earlier than August 25 and end date of no later than June 10. At that time, lawmakers authorized good cause waivers for inclement weather, as well as educational purpose waivers. The law was changed again in 2011 to increase the instructional time requirement from 180 days and 1,000 hours to 185 days and 1,025 hours.
In 2012, lawmakers pushed the school start date back even further, with schools not able to start earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 and not able to end later than the Friday closest to June 11. Lawmakers also eliminated the educational purpose waiver and placed stricter requirements on the good cause weather waiver. Finally, the instructional time requirement was changed to 185 days or 1,025 hours.
These changes are widely attributed to requests by the tourism and travel industry in North Carolina, which has advocated for longer summers to accommodate family vacations and businesses which rely on student workers over the summer season. Despite concerns by the tourism and travel industry, support for local school calendar flexibility has continued to increase in recent years.
Most recently, lengthy school closures caused by Hurricane Florence, forcing schools to close for over a month in some cases, have raised awareness of the critical need of local communities to have more control over their own school calendars. This need is reinforced by frequent school closures in Western counties, which continue to experience weeks of school closures every year due to hazardous winter storms. In addition to weather-related arguments, school calendar flexibility advocates have also noted that restoring local school calendar control will positively impact several aspects of student life, including but not limited to: creating more opportunities for high school students to take community college classes, allowing students to take first semester exams before winter break, giving students enrolled in advanced placement classes more time to study for exams given on the same day nationwide, and allowing more students to participate in extracurricular activities that currently must begin before the start of the school year.
NCASA applauds recent efforts of lawmakers to provide local education agencies with the school calendar flexibility that their schools and communities need. As a member of L.O.C.A.L.—“Let Our Calendar Authority be Local”—a coalition of education and business groups across the state in favor of restoring local calendar flexibility, NCASA hopes to see legislative action this session to expand calendar flexibility. Superintendents should urge local school boards to adopt resolutions asking state lawmakers to support calendar flexibility and then ask the school district’s House and Senate members to sponsor local bills expanding calendar flexibility for schools in their communities. The deadline for requesting a local bill in the Senate is Feb. 27, and March 6 for the House, so meetings with lawmakers on this issue need to occur soon. We will continue to monitor the progress of HB 12 and HB 13, as well as other local calendar bills as they are introduced, and provide updates as needed on our Daily Discussion page.