Empty desks in classroom

Public schools statewide will retain their late-August opening dates after a House bill attempting to move up the schedule by a week was shelved in the state Senate.

Although that outcome was expected, the legislation did clear one chamber after similar bills have been dead-on-arrival at the General Assembly in recent years.

Since the 2005-06 school year, state law has prohibited public school systems from opening before the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and closing after the Friday closest to June 11 without permission from the State Board of Education.

For the 2019-20 school year, opening day will be Monday, Aug. 26, for both Guilford County Schools and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

House Bill 79 would have allowed public school systems to align their calendars with local community colleges, which typically start a week earlier and not before Aug. 15.

The bill cleared the House by a 100-10 vote March 28.

However, HB79 was sent directly to the Senate Rules and Operations committee. That typically is a sign a key Senate Republican leader wanted the legislation on the back burner, if not to be heard at all.

“There is no chance (for HB79), as I believe the tourism industry has once again convinced legislators that starting school early would hurt tourism,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth.

Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said that even though “there was lots of discussion early in this session, I don’t think there was ever any chance for serious movement.”

Support

The 2004 law passed after the successful “Save Our Summers” campaign was initiated by vocal grassroots parents/teachers’ group and later supported by coastal business owners.

Before the law, many public-school systems, including Triad systems, began school in early August. The law delayed the start by up to three weeks in an effort to allow families to spend more time at North Carolina’s beaches.

The N.C. Travel and Tourism Coalition said “studies show that starting school in late August produces as much as $1 billion each year in economic growth through increased tourism-related sales.”

The N.C. Travel Industry Association lists school calendars as the No. 2 item on its 2019 legislative agenda.

Bill supporters said legislators should compare the benefits of the bills for students, such as finishing their first semester before the Christmas holiday break, to those of extending the summer vacation until late August for the tourism industry.

Lambeth said uniting the calendars make sense since two district schools — Early College of Forsyth and Forsyth Middle College — are on the Forsyth Technical Community College campus. Students at those schools take college courses for credit while earning their high school diplomas.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said most, if not all, of the state’s 115 school districts would like school calendar flexibility “so they can design their calendars to what best fits their communities and enables high school students to finish exams before the Christmas break.”

The travel coalition said that “a majority of states have late-August start dates, with no discernible impact on student learning or test scores.”

Numerous bills

Lambeth said more than 200 school calendar bills were submitted in the legislature before the 2019 session, with none of them clearing a committee because of stiff opposition from the travel industry.

For the current session, there have been at least 33 local and four public House bills filed affecting 87 school districts — including Alamance-Burlington, Asheboro, Ashe, Davidson, Davie, Elkin, Forsyth, Guilford, Lexington, Mount Airy, Randolph, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, Thomasville, Watauga and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County.

There have been 13 Senate bills affecting 35 districts, including Guilford. Local bills cannot be vetoed by the governor.

Lambeth said it was worth noting, as a sign of progress, that the House passed HB79.

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Richard Craver is a reporter with the Winston-Salem Journal.

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