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Schools Exempted From Complying With School Calendar Law Face Legal Battle

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ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. — This school year is winding down, but the next one is already heating up.

Debate over a law that enforces longer summer vacations for students who attend schools on a traditional calendar didn't end last year when it was signed into law. Today, a legal fight is leaving some school districts in limbo.

School Calendar Bill

List of Schools Requesting Waivers

In August of last year, Governor Mike Easley signed a bill that extended summer vacations for students on a traditional school calendar in North Carolina.

The bill mandates that public schools that operate on a traditional calendar open no sooner than August 25 and close no later June 10. The bill takes effect for the 2005-2006 school year.

Earlier this year, 21 high schools in nine school systems across North Carolina were granted waivers from complying with the law by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Several of the high schools that received waivers are in the Nash-Rocky Mount Schools district. These schools were granted exemptions because about 500 students in the system take classes at Nash Community College as part of a "dual enrollment" program.

But a group is fighting to overturn the waivers in court. This group wants all schools to stick to the late-August start date in order to protect the longer summer.

A woman who owns rental property that is helping fight the exemptions told WRAL-TV's Kelcey Carlson over the phone that the exemptions affect her business.

"Their concern, and the point of this litigation, is that some school systems are trying to get around the law that passed last year," said Bruce Thompson, the attorney for the plaintiffs seeking to overturn the waivers.

Officials with the Nash-Rocky Mount Schools and Nash Community College said opening classes at the high schools around the same time that the community college opens eases certain headaches, such as transportation issues.

"We need to (provide transportation) for students who are unable to provide their own," said Sylvia Matthews, executive director of Nash-Rocky Mount Schools.

They just want an easy system for the students, Matthews added.

If high schools in the district can't start the school year as early as Nash Community College this August, she said, then the school system would have to do some quick thinking.

"If we had to start after the twenty-fifth (of August), we'd have to regroup and look at what we have so the students don't suffer," Matthews said.

A hearing on the legal action is set for July.

A judge could make a decision that affects the waivers for the 2005-2006 school year, or postpone a decision that affects the 2006-2007 school year.

Right now, high schools in the Nash-Rocky Mount system are expected to start the 2005-2006 school year about two weeks before August 25.

Other high schools in the state have been granted waivers to begin classes as early as August 3.

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