Large N. Carolina District Backs Off Early-Start Calendar

MONROE, N.C. (AP) — One of North Carolina’s largest school systems has backed off an academic calendar for next year that would have openly defied a state law that directs when classes can start and end.

The Union County Board of Education voted 6-3 to rescind a 2023-24 school calendar that would have brought back students on Aug. 9, news outlets reported. That calendar had been approved unanimously last month.

But the school calendar law tells districts that in nearly all cases students can’t return each year until later in August. Some parents had sued the board and its members earlier this month, saying the district was breaking the law when it adopted the earlier calendar.

Board members expressed frustration at Friday’s meeting about the law, which has been on the books in some form for close to 20 years.

The mandated calendar parameters were designed in part to ensure vacation-related industries would have enough employees during the summer. But critics say the requirements make it impossible to complete the fall semester before winter break and make it harder on dual-enrollment students -- those who also take classes at community colleges.

The General Assembly would have to approve any changes to the law.

“It’s truly heartbreaking,” board member Joe Morreale said. “I would encourage everyone who is listening to please reach out to your state representatives and push for flexibility in school calendars.”

The new calendar for the Union County schools, ranked sixth in the state by enrollment, says classes will begin on Aug. 28 and end June 7, 2024.

Mitch Armbruster, a Raleigh attorney representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the board, said he was pleased by the board’s vote.

“I hope that all districts with a calendar that is inconsistent with the law will do the same,” Armbruster told The Charlotte Observer.

School districts in Gaston, Cleveland and Rutherford counties started earlier this school year, while the Cabarrus County School Board has unanimously approved an early start to the next school year, the newspaper reported.

When the Union County board adopted its original calendar for next year, schools Superintendent Andrew Houlihan said many parents and educators supported an early start. But other parents were critical of how the board went about approving that calendar.