School board, state officials discuss school calendar

During a special called work session between the Stanly County Board of Education and local state officials Tuesday morning at Atrium Stanly, the idea of granting more control of the school calendar to local elected officials was one of the main issues discussed.

Aside from the school board members and Superintendent Dr. Jeff James and Albemarle Mayor Ronnie Michael, the state officials included Rep. Wayne Sasser (R-Stanly), Rep. Scott Brewer (D-Stanly) and State Sen. Carl Ford (R-Stanly). Democrat Geoffrey Hoy, who is challenging Ford this year, was also in attendance.

Though school calendars were originally decided by local school boards with input from citizens, the N.C. General Assembly passed a school calendar law in 2004, enacted in 2005, at the urging of the tourism industry. The law said schools can start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11.

Many school districts in the western part of the state would like to start school earlier in the summer, but many of the eastern districts, especially those that depend on summer tourism, want to keep the schedule the way it is.

When asked what was preventing counties from having more control over their school calendars, Ford said it is due to tourism in the East, with many people scared they would lose business and seasonal employees if schools started earlier in the summer.

James said there are 13 school districts that are operating on a year-round schedule, which has allowed them to start earlier than other school districts. He said Stanly County Schools is not going that route “because it’s not completely clear on what year-round means.”

SCS is in the process of drafting a 2021-2022 school calendar. James said it would include having exams before Christmas and it would better align with community colleges and four-year universities. He said the calendar should come out of the calendar committee in February and be presented before the full school board to vote on a draft before it is presented to the General Assembly.

“We’re trying to align the calendar with what’s best for kids,” James said.

When students leave for the holiday break, “they’re not worried about studying for their exams coming up when they come back in January,” James said, adding that research shows the break is detrimental to student test scores.

James said a shift of two weeks in the school calendar “is not that detrimental” because people can still plan summer vacations at the beach and the eastern counties can still take in tourism revenue. The current school calendar, with the mandated start and stop times, “is not a student-friendly calendar,” James said.

A school calendar with more local control would also allow SCS to better prepare for days when school gets canceled due to snow, floods or any other weather-related events.

Sasser said and Rep. Linda Johnson introduced a local bill last year for Cabarrus and Stanly to alter the school schedule, but the bill failed. Ford said he has also introduced bills each year to alter the school schedule, but nothing has happened.

“This issue is about worse than the Mason-Dixon line,” School Board Chairman Melvin Poole said.

School board member Anthony Graves asked if there was anything the county could do to affect the school calendar on the state level.

While Ford said there was not, he did say some school districts that operate a year-round calendar have figured out ways to start school at an earlier date. He mentioned Kannapolis City Schools added around 15 minutes of instructional time per day and that allowed them to start school two weeks early.

“I’d hate to think that our coastal economy is so fragile that two weeks is going to sink the ship,” Poole said, adding that a possible compromise would be to have two state calendars and let the eastern counties operate on their own.

James said SCS has looked at other models from some of the 13 school districts that operate year-round schedules, including Kannapolis City Schools, Lincoln County Schools and Anson County Schools.