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Rowan, Cabarrus included in calendar flexibility program

By Josh Bergeron and Rebecca Rider

news@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — A pilot program proposed by State Rep. Harry Warren would give the Rowan-Salisbury and Kannapolis school system more flexibility to set its own calendar.

Warren, R-77, has drafted and introduced a bill that would allow public school systems in 20 counties the ability to set their own start and end dates within a certain window of time. His bill — known as House Bill 389 — states that certain school systems could start as early as “the Monday closest to Aug. 10” and end “the Friday closest to June 11.”

Currently, the state mandates that all public schools in the state start on a specific date in late August. The state also mandates that all schools end on a certain date. In 2016, Rowan-Salisbury School System started classes on Aug. 29. Class is set to end on June 9.

As a result of the state’s policy, schools begin playing football games before the first day of class.

With his bill, Warren said he hopes to discover whether the educational benefit of statewide school calendar flexibility outweighs any potential effects on the tourism industry, which has lobbied against the idea.

Counties includes in Warren’s proposal include the following counties: Rowan, Cabarrus, Anson, Bladen, Caldwell, Cherokee, Cleveland, Davidson, Duplin, Graham, Greene, Guilford, Martin, McDowell, Mitchell, Northampton, Robeson, Warren, Washington and Wilson.

Asked for her opinion, Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Lynn Moody said educators are in the best position to make a decision about what’s best for students, including matching calendars with other institutions such as community colleges.

“Our secondary (school) folks feel strongly that first semester should end by Christmas, and we cannot make that happen with the current calendar,” Moody said.

Ending late in June is not good for students, she said.

“We start to lose the attention of the students in spring and it just gets worse as the weather gets hotter outside,” Moody said. “I think it’s best to let schools and communities make those decisions.”

For his part, Kannapolis City Schools Superintendent Chip Buckwell called Warren’s legislation “good for schools.”

“If it results in us being able to better match the community college calendar and be able to administer exams without a break prior to administration, I would be all for it,” Buckwell said in an email. “It makes no sense to give an exam after a break. I hope this leads to more deregulation of schools in general and more flexibility to address the needs of children.”

Warren said his bill has “strong bipartisan support.” In fact, slightly more Democrats than Republicans have signed on as sponsors or cosponsors of the bill. There are more than 30 sponsors or cosponsors.

If approved by the N.C. General Assembly and signed into law, school districts could elect not to participate. For every school district that decides not to participate, another could be substituted in. However, the total number of school districts participating would need to represent the geographic, economic and social diversity of the state, according to Warren’s bill.

School districts that choose to participate would receive calendar flexibility for three years, beginning in either 2018 or 2019.

In November of each year, the State Board of Education and Department of Commerce would report to the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill about the effects of the program on educational achievement and the tourism industry.

The bill states such research “would provide irrefutable evidence of individual communities that would not be economically harmed by school calendar flexibility.”

Warren said previous studies about the matter have been slanted toward the tourism industry.

For years, legislators have introduced various bills to grant school calendar flexibility, but none have been signed into law. Some legislators introduced bills specific to individual school systems. Other bills have granted broader flexibility.

Asked about support in the state Senate, Warren expressed confidence as a number of senators whose counties are included in the pilot program have introduced calendar flexibility bills.

“I think we’ve seen some flexibility and willingness to discuss end dates or start dates, but we’re still going to have to wait and see what happens,” Warren said.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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