Diverse group lobbying for local control of school calendars
Posted December 19, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — After a decade of longer summer vacations, North Carolina school leaders are pushing for more control of their academic calendars.
A 2004 state law requires that public schools open no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11. The law was updated two years ago to give school districts some flexibility, but some administrators argue that the changes still aren't enough to deal with weather-related cancellations of class days.
Now, a diverse coalition has come together to push for another rewrite of the law. Let Our Calendar Authority be Local, or LOCAL, includes such disparate groups from the right – the John Locke Foundation and FreedomWorks NC – from the left – the North Carolina Justice Center – and school-related organizations such as the North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina Parent Teacher Association.
"You have those that may be more interested in it because of local control issues, that they just don't want government intervention and we need to have government down to the lowest level, to folks who are more interested in some of the closing of the achievement gap," said Leanne Winner, director of government relations for the North Carolina School Boards Association, which also is part of LOCAL.
Athens Drive High School Principal Jim Hedrick said the current calendar forces schools to hold first-semester exams in early January – days after students have returned from a two-week holiday break.
"To me, it makes sense to have the semester end prior to Christmas," Hedrick said, noting universities already use such a schedule. "The kids would have everything fresh. They would have everything in their minds. They would be able to get all this out of the way, and they wouldn't have to worry about it coming back after the holiday season."
Louise Lee, the leader of the grassroots group Save Our Summers that pushed through the calendar changes a decade ago, said families who want flexibility for summer jobs and camps need to fight to keep it.
"It has worked. It has worked for 10 years," Lee said. "My fear is that local school boards will take advantage of having their power back."
Any changes to the calendar would have to be approved by the General Assembly, and legislative leaders aren't too interested in wading into the debate again.
"We're not hearing it. Call us Scrooge, but we're not giving this gift," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, pointing to tourism tax revenue and summer camps that benefit from the late August school start.