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General Assembly bills would allow earlier starts for NC public schools

East Chapel Hill High School

East Chapel Hill High School

Filed in mid-March, the bills would allow schools to opt to start their school calendars earlier in August.

Currently, state public schools cannot start their school year before the Monday closest to Aug. 26, and they cannot end later than the Friday closest to June 11.

Jeff Nash, spokesperson for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said current law was enacted with beach tourism in mind.

“But how does that impact school districts in Raleigh and Greensboro and Charlotte?” he said.

House Bill 375 would allow local board of educations to adjust any school calendar in their districts to coincide with local community college calendars, so high school students can take college classes in the summer. But the opening date could still be no earlier than Aug. 15.

House Bill 389 would introduce a pilot program to test how a more flexible calendar affects students.

The program would span three school years, and data would be gathered from participating school districts to determine if the calendar changes affect student achievement and summer internship positions.

Results of the program would be evaluated by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, the Department of Commerce and the UNC School of Government.

David Brown, research director at ncIMPACT in the School of Government, said the school often helps the legislature evaluate pilot programs such as the newly introduced bill.

Nash said public schools that use block scheduling often run into problems with current law.

Due to the late start, some high schools do not finish their fall semester until mid-January, he said. Students who want to graduate early and begin taking college classes are inconvenienced by different college calendars.

“It’s bad legislation for a whole lot of reasons, and we would love to see it go away,” Nash said.

Natalie Van Genderen, a UNC sophomore who attended Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, ran into conflicts with the school calendar and her summer plans.

Van Genderen works at Don Lee Camp in Arapahoe, N.C., and during her junior year of high school, she had to miss the last few days of school to attend a camp training program.

“It was very frustrating that I knew while I was at the first week of camp that everyone else was still at school,” she said.

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Nash said similar changes have been proposed ever since the current law was introduced — but none have passed.

“We would love to see flexibility restored to the school districts as it used to be, when the school districts could decide for themselves when they want to start and end the school year for what works in their community,” he said.