Buncombe school board supports control over academic calendar

Buncombe County Schools buses
ARRIVING ON TIME: The Buncombe County Board of Education passed a resolution Jan. 12 supporting greater flexibility — and an earlier start — for the district's calendar. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County Schools

Buncombe County Schools is still playing by the rules set by the North Carolina General Assembly this coming school year. But the district’s patience is growing thin.

During their meeting of Jan. 12, members of the Buncombe County Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution that supports amending the state’s school calendar law. The document blasts the current law for a range of woes, from learning loss to difficulty in providing teacher training.

Academic calendars across North Carolina are determined by Senate Bill 187, passed by the General Assembly in 2004. The law states that the first day of school will be “no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26, and the closing date for students be no later than the Friday closest to June 11.”

The late August start date means Buncombe’s schools don’t complete the first semester until mid- to late January. According to the resolution, that timing means high school students don’t take their first-semester exams until after the winter break, which “negatively impacts students and faculty and further, is an inefficient use of instructional time.” Students who graduate at the end of the first semester often have trouble registering for higher education, because their final exams overlap with the start of college courses in January.

The resolution adds that the lack of calendar flexibility harms teachers as well. “Scheduling workdays and professional development during the school year for faculty and staff is almost impossible during the fall semester and remains challenging in the Spring semester, despite the significant increase in areas which faculty and staff are required by law to receive training,” it reads.

The school board’s move is less forceful than that of the neighboring Henderson County Board of Education, which voted Jan. 9 to start its school year two weeks before allowed by state law. Buncombe school board member Rob Elliot noted that making such a move could open BCS up to sanctions from the General Assembly or lawsuits, such as one underway in Union County.

“As we’ve stated over and over here tonight, our main goal is to do what’s best for the children. And having taught in high school and [been a principal], to have those exams before Christmas means the world to the children,” said board member Judy Lewis. “And if we’re able to provide that and so many other things that are mentioned here tonight, …  I think that would be doing such a wonderful service. And I hope the state will listen to our plea.”

Following the vote on the resolution, the school board approved the district’s 2023-24 academic calendar. Students will begin on Monday, Aug. 28 — the earliest date legally allowed — and wrap up on Monday, June 10.

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