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Thursday January 21st

Proposed bill may grant local school districts more school calendar flexibility

<p>(From left) Valerie P. Foushee, Graig Meyer and Verla Insko speak to the audience at Orange County's Democratic Party's election party at Might as Well in Chapel Hill in November 2018.&nbsp;</p>
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(From left) Valerie P. Foushee, Graig Meyer and Verla Insko speak to the audience at Orange County's Democratic Party's election party at Might as Well in Chapel Hill in November 2018. 

Several school districts in North Carolina, including Chapel Hill and Carrboro, supported a resolution in January to give public schools the power to change their school calendars. Now, a bill has been proposed to the General Assembly to give Chapel Hill-Carrboro City and Orange County schools this greater flexibility. 

The original aim of the resolution adopted by several school districts was to accommodate the interruptions caused by events such as hurricanes Florence and Michael. In accordance with current legislation, schools must adhere to the fixed dates, which creates difficulties in making up cancelled school days. 

Introduced on Feb. 27, House Bill 210 will give the boards of education in both schools greater flexibility when it comes to adjusting the calendar. The bill is sponsored by 13 Democrats and one Republican and has been referred to the Committee on Education K-12. 

One of the main sponsors, N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-District 50, has said the current law does not cater to the best interest of teachers and students.

“I would like to see schools have more flexibility in their start and end dates to be able to better meet the needs of students,” Meyer said.

Meyer, who served as director of student equity for CHCCS from 2012-14, said he introduced the bill for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City and Orange County schools specifically in case legislators are opposed to giving more flexibility statewide. This bill would give only the local community the possibility to exercise greater control over start and end dates.

Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for CHCCS, said the current system was intended to boost tourism, particularly in the east of the state. Nevertheless, even school districts in the East have had problems with the current law.

“I believe that there may also be a bill for the districts in the eastern part of the state, like at the coast where the lawmakers are saying they want to help the tourism industry for their areas, yet their own school districts are saying ‘We need calendar flexibility,’” Nash said.

The North Carolina Travel and Tourism Coalition has responded to the new bill, providing reasons for maintaining the current school calendar laws.

The coalition argues that, before the current law, children were starting school in the hottest part of the summer and would be missing school days anyway due to the heat. The range of dates also poses challenges for parents and children to coordinate their summer plans. 

Changing dates could prevent students from finding summer jobs, attending camp and organizing their holidays with parents accordingly, the coalition said. This would arguably deprive children of the opportunity to gain skills outside of the class.

The coalition highlighted the importance of having students start classes in late August, as it's one of the most prominent months for travel and tourism in the state.

"In 2017, the North Carolina tourism industry generated $23.9B in visitor spending, supporting more than 225,000 jobs for North Carolina citizens," the coalition said in a statement, referring to total state revenue from 2017.

Meyer said he thinks it’s unlikely much progress will be made with the bill, especially with many different groups in the state divided on the issue.

"There's opposition from representatives who represent tourism-dependent areas like the coast and the mountains," he said. "There has traditionally been some resistance from legislative leadership in both chambers because of the pressure they receive from the tourism industry."

@ares_z19 

city@dailytarheel.com

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