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Rep. Warren tries again at school calendar flexibility

SALISBURY — State Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, is giving his another go at a calendar flexibility bill that would allow some school districts to start the school year earlier.

Filed on Feb. 19, the School Calendar Flexibility Pilot Program would allow 22 counties to test setting an earlier start date of no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 10. Currently, the start date can be no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26.

The end date would remain the same as no later than the Friday closest to June 11. The General Assembly in 2004 approved the current start date rules.

Rep. Julia Howard, R-77, is also a primary sponsor of the bill.

Warren filed a similar bill in 2017, which made it through the House but not the Senate. This session, he is hopeful it will be considered in the Senate or at least during budget negotiations. And a bit of positive progress came Tuesday when the bill advanced out of the education committee and is awaiting further action in the House rules committee.

Rowan County is not included in this year’s bill, unlike the one filed in 2017. Warren says Rowan-Salisbury Schools already has the latitude to change the start day of the school year because of its renewal status. Neighboring Davie, Davidson and Cabarrus counties are included in this year’s bill.

The tourism industry and some parents have argued against school calendar flexibility, saying it cuts into summer breaks. Representatives of the coastal and western districts have also been unfavorable to calendar flexibility.

Warren argues, if there is an impact to the tourism industry, it is minimal. He said some schools already have programs ahead of the official start of the school year, including sports practices and games.

The bill, he says, would support students more by aligning calendars with community colleges so they can begin the school year when they start taking college classes.

The bill would also allow for final exams to be taken ahead of winter break.

“Any student is prone to have poorer performance on final exams taken after an extended holiday break,” Warren said.

The calendar may also be an opportunity for school make-up days, if not used, to be turned into teacher workdays.

Warren said there is obvious support for school calendar flexibility. In the 2017-18 legislative session, 43 House bills and 15 Senate bills were filed on the issue.

If passed, school districts would be able to set their own start date. Warren said school districts would likely engage the community to decide what day to begin.

School districts that enact an earlier start date will be monitored by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, and the Department of Commerce will track of the effects the program has on the tourism industry. They both will report to he UNC School of Government, which will look at the implementation and administration, impact on school achievement, effect on summer internships and any recommendations.

Participating schools would be in the pilot program for three school years beginning with the 2019-20 or 2020-21 school year.

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