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News Education Macon school start date threatened by injunction

An administrative hearing could force Macon schools to abandon their planned Aug. 4 start date. School staff attorney, John Henning, Jr., and Asheville-based attorney Chris Campbell (right) are advising the board on the case. Photo by Brittney ParkerWhether or not classes at Macon County schools will start as scheduled on Aug. 4 remains to be seen.

At a special called meeting on July 18, the Macon County Board of Education passed a resolution in support of the 2011-2012 school calendar and authorizing its attorney to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the calendar and this year’s school start date.

The lawsuit is the result of a petition for a case hearing and injunctive relief filed by a Highlands parent and Save Our Summers-North Carolina (SOS-NC), an organization that supports a statewide calendar law proscribing starting and ending dates for all school districts. The petitioners have challenged the decision of the State Board of Education to approve a waiver granting an alternative calendar for Macon County schools which allowed the schools to by-pass the Aug. 25 start date mandated by the state and instead begin classes on Aug. 4.

The petitioners have also asked for injunctive relief that could potentially force schools in the county to abandon their alternative calendars with only weeks to go and postpone the first day of classes for three weeks.

According to the resolution passed by the school board on Monday, the case had been scheduled to be heard before the State Office of Administrative Hearings in October. In the meantime, no other formal court action has occurred. However, on Friday, July 15, SOS-NC and Sabrina Hawkins, the Highlands parent named in the petition, requested that the case be heard immediately.

Reading the resolution before the board, schools attorney, John Henning Jr., explained that, with approximately two weeks to the first teacher work day, a sudden court hearing which could possibly nullify the calendar would create an extreme hardship for the families of Macon County as well as substantial logistical problems for employees. Moreover, said Henning, there was no reason the petitioners could not have requested the hearing earlier but instead waited until “this unreasonable late date” to make the request.

On Tuesday, Henning reported that a hearing on the preliminary injunction had been tentatively set for Monday, July 25, in Wake County. This hearing has been scheduled despite a motion by the State Board of Education to dismiss the case.

“It’s two weeks to Aug. 1, when we’re supposed to have teachers here, and three days after that we’re supposed to have students in the classroom ... I think that the state board’s decision was just and proper and ought to be left alone. There are good faith and very understandable and justifiable reasons for the waivers.” — John Henning Jr., Macon County Schools attorney

“It’s two weeks to Aug. 1, when we’re supposed to have teachers here, and three days after that we’re supposed to have students in the classroom,” said Henning, explaining the reason the local school board has decided to get involved in the case which is otherwise targeting only the N.C. Board of Education and its decision to grant the waiver.

After coming out of closed session on Monday, the Macon County school board approved the resolution after a motion by Gary Shields and seconded by Stephanie McCall. McCall commented that authorizing Henning to act on the board’s behalf in the matter was in the best interest of the families and employees of the district.

Asheville-based attorney Chris Campbell of Campbell Shatley, LLC, who has previously done work for the school district on other issues, has also been retained to advise the school board on the case.

“We are certainly looking at cautiously going forward, with funds that are not unreasonable, to fight this and to protect our students’ best interest,” McCall said.

School board chairman Tommy Cabe and member Thomas Baldwin were not able to attend the meeting and so did not vote on the resolution.

Asked about his confidence of success at the hearing, Henning said, “I think that the state board’s decision was just and proper and ought to be left alone. There are good faith and very understandable and justifiable reasons that Macon County Schools applied for the waivers.”

Henning noted that a waiver was granted to every school in the district for educational purposes and that there was no districtwide waiver. The waivers allow the schools to institute weeklong, voluntary remedial/enrichment intercession periods three times a year.

“What each school is doing, in terms of its use of the intercession periods, will not have much of anything to do with what any other school is doing,” Henning explained. “The principals are making their own targeted plans for remediation in those times.”

Henning emphasized that the board was most concerned about the timing of the preliminary hearing. “I know not everyone supported the calendar when it was adopted, but at this point, even those people don’t want to have to change it at the eleventh hour,” he said.





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