RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The bipartisan bill that would allow local school boards across North Carolina to choose when the school year starts has moved to the Senate, where it might be held in detention.

Rep. Neal Jackson (R-Robbins), who represents a portion of Randolph County, developed House Bill 86 because so many school boards wanted to attach themselves to a local bill about a few school districts in the Piedmont Triad, and it passed the House on a vote of 111-2. Only Reps. Celeste Cairns (R-Carteret) and Frank Iler (R-Brunswick) voted no. There were several absentees.

This started out as a “local bill,” House Bill 51, and addressed seven school districts – including five in the Piedmont Triad – but after the bill passed on first reading, it wound up with 45 cosponsors.

“I am grateful for the positive response for this bill and excited to see how this will help the students of our state,” Jackson said in a release after the House’s vote. “The support for School Calendar Flex shows sensible bipartisanship in action. North Carolina schools and students will benefit from the calendar flexibility, and teachers will reap the benefits of not having to give semester tests after winter break.”

Students hurry toward their school building for classes after disembarking a school bus.

The bill changes state law to allow schools to open on the Monday closest to Aug. 10 instead of the current requirement of Aug. 26. The closing date could remain the Friday closest to June 11, but “a local board may revise the scheduled closing date if necessary in order to comply with the minimum requirements for instructional days or instructional time.”

Such bills have been floated and passed in the General Assembly for years, legislators have noted, and Senate Phil Berger (R-Eden) may be the ultimate impediment to its becoming law.

“I don’t see where there’s a need to change the calendar law, except maybe to beef up the enforcement mechanisms for local systems that ignore the law,” Berger told WRAL, without elaborating on his reasons.

About the bill

State Rep. Brian Biggs (R-Trinity), a named sponsor of the bill along with District 90 Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Mount Airy) and Rep. Donnie Loftis (R-Gaston), pointed out that this bill doesn’t require school boards to change but allows “additional flexibility in their calendars while still maintaining the requisite number of instructional days and hours.

Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Mount Airy) (NCGA)
State Rep. Brian Biggs (R-Trinity) (NCGA)
Rep. Neal Jackson (R-Robbins) (NCGA)

“It is not a mandate and schools would not be required to change their calendars,” Biggs said in the release. “As stated before, it would allow school districts to align their calendars with colleges and universities, making it easier for high school students that want to take college courses and for those that may graduate early to enroll in these post-secondary institutions.”

The language in this bill provides for local school boards to determine the opening and closing dates for school sessions by changing the dates specified in state statute by about two weeks.

The bill’s cosponsors included a dozen from the Triad: Reps. Kanika Brown (D-Winston-Salem), Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro), Julia C. Howard (R-Mocksville), Larry Potts (R-Lexington), Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem), Ray Pickett (R-Blowing Rock), Larry Potts (R-Lexington), Dennis Riddell (R-Snow Camp), Stephen Ross (R-Burlington), Wayne Sasser (R-Albermarle) and Jeff Zenger (R-Lewisville).

The Senate passed the bill on its initial reading and assigned it to the Rules Committee, where all bills go before being routed for consideration in other committees or moved to the floor for a vote. It’s uncertain who in the Senate might take up the role of shepherding the bill from committee to committee, such as Education and Finance. The Rules Committee also can just not act on the bill because Berger doesn’t want it to be reviewed.

Change has been recommended

In a draft report published in December, The House Select Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future had recommended allowing flexibility for school boards.

“The Committee finds that the current requirement that schools begin no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 and adjourn no later than the Friday closest to June 11 creates a school calendar that is not best suited to the needs of students and educators,” the report states. “To better meet those needs, the Committee finds that local boards of education should be given greater calendar flexibility.

“The Committee recommends that the General Assembly take action and change the school calendar law.”

During that committee’s evaluation, Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) had recommended a school year that began on Labor Day (the first Monday in September) and ended on Memorial Day (the last Monday in May), The News & Observer reported.

WFAE in Charlotte reported that school districts in Gaston, Cleveland and Rutherford counties had ignored the law and opened earlier last summer.