Local News

Lawsuit Arguments Debate Year-Round School Calendar Plan

Posted April 18, 2007 7:39 a.m. EDT
Updated April 18, 2007 8:18 p.m. EDT

— An attorney for the Wake County school system argued Wednesday that the district has the authority to assign students to schools and parents don't have the right to pick a school calendar.

A group of parents, organized as WakeCARES, has sued the district to block its plans to convert 19 elementary schools and three middle schools from traditional calendars to year-round schedules.

Parents said the new schedule would disrupt family life and isn't in the best interests of their children. The mayors of Apex and Garner are backing WakeCARES, maintaining that their towns would suffer in year-round conversions and the district's decision deprives many parents of educational choices.

School district administrators said converting the schools is necessary to create enough seats for an expected 8,000 new students in the fall.

Year-round schools can handle more students because students are separated into four groups with rotating schedules, with three in class and one on break at all times.

 Without the conversions, schools might have to run on split schedules, with some students attending early-morning classes and others going to school in the afternoon and evening.

"There is no constitutional right to a uniform, nine-month (school) term," said Ann Majestic, an attorney representing the district. "If the (county) commissioners wanted to provide (the district) with boatloads of more money, I'm sure they'd be glad to open more traditional schools. But that's not where we are."

About 20,000 families will be affected by the conversions.

Robert Hunter, an attorney for the parents, said forcing those families onto a year-round school calendar isn't fair. He said the families should be given a choice of going to a year-round or a traditional school.

"There is no evidence one way or another which way these 20,000 families would go. But I think I know what most of them would choose," Hunter said.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning referred to the district's threat to begin split schedules at local schools as a "Chicken Little" approach and said the district needs to recognize why some families are so opposed to being forced onto a year-round calendar.

"This is a major, life-altering event. This is not chicken feed," Manning said. "It's not a minor thing."

But Manning lectured the parents to be grateful their children attend school in Wake County, noting many school districts across the state lack the facilities and the teachers the county offers.

The judge has toured some of the poorest-performing schools in North Carolina in recent months as he monitors the improvements he has ordered in the long-running Leandro case.

"Whatever the battle is over who goes where, just be thankful you're here," Manning said. "There are folks out there who don't have the equal opportunity to obtain a sound, basic education, and it's being denied them every single day they walk in school."