State changes to the school calendar laws will give students three full months of summer this year. Macon County Board of Education approved the school calendar for the 2013-14 school year during Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting. The calendar aligns with North Carolina’s school calendar law passed by the N.C. General Assembly which states schools may begin no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26. With this school year's last day scheduled for May 24, students are in store for a lengthy summer, which will be nearly a month longer than in the past two years.
According to interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan, as in previous years, a committee comprised of teachers, PTA members and central office staff was assembled to develop the calendar. The calendar puts teachers returning from summer break on Tuesday, Aug. 20, with students returning Monday, Aug. 26. The new calendar puts the last day for students on June 14 with the last teacher workday scheduled for June 16.
The school calendar has been the center of debate in the state's legislature over the past few years, with changes being made each year.
The newest change in the law, which was approved in the last legislative session of 2012, prevented Macon County and other districts from starting early to avoid winter weather that often delays the exam schedule that occurs before the winter break. This year, because of the weather waiver, schools in Macon County started on Aug. 9.
Over the last few years, lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum have debated with local school boards and community organizations about when schools should be mandated to start and end.
In addition to the new start date mandates, the legislation will no longer be law, but instead, it gives local districts the option for students to either receive 1,025 hours of instruction time or attend school for 185 days. However, the law still requires attendance for "at least nine calendar months.”
The calendar approved by the board Monday night puts students attending school for 180 days which amounts to 1,080 hours of instructional time. By having those hours of designated instructional time built into the calendar, the district is allotted 55 hours that can be used for snow days, which would not force students to attend additional class days to make up the days like they have in the past.
Lawmakers justified the most recent change as a way to give local districts more control of the calendar. “The law was intended to give schools more flexibility ... it was an attempt to give local districts more control of their calendar,” Senator Jim Davis (R-50) said last fall.
Members of Macon County's board did not view the new laws as less restrictive. According to board member Stephanie McCall, while trying to meet the state's new requirements that were intended to save the summer months, the school calendar suffered. McCall voiced her concern about the effect not having a fall break in October would have on students. Typically, students have been given a fall break during October, but because of the new mandates, the only break students will be given in October falls on Oct. 28. "We have always been told in the past by Pat Davis [Macon County Schools Testing Director] that a fall break was so important for our students," said McCall. "I am concerned that this calendar takes that away and could hurt our students."
In addition to the lack of a fall break, McCall pointed out that the calendar put end of semester testing after the Christmas break, something else Macon County has tried to avoid in the past. "Not only is there a more than 15 day break right before testing, when the materials should be fresh on the students’ minds, students are only back in school after the break for nine days before they are out for another three," said McCall. "It is hard enough for parents to get kids back into school after Christmas, and then we turn around and send them home for three more days."
Dr. Duncan assured McCall that those were also concerns of the committee who designed the calendar, but because of the restrictions handed down by the state, he felt that the proposed calendar was the best option for Macon County. "It would be my recommendation to approve this calendar, because I believe it is the best option for students and teachers in the community," said Dr. Duncan. "I would also suggest that you only approve this calendar for a year, because with the amount of changes being handed down from Raleigh, next year may be a completely different story."
The school board unanimously voted to approve the 2013-2014 school calendar.