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School calendar flexibility in 2024? CMS official says he’s optimistic

The Gaston County school board approved an Aug. 17 opening, even though state law requires waiting until Aug. 29 this year.
Ann Doss Helms
Gaston County Schools have opened before the legally allowable date for the last two years and plan to do so again in 2024.

After years of complaining and outright defiance, could this be the year North Carolina’s school districts get permission to start the school year earlier?

Charles Jeter, the government relations director for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, told the school board Tuesday he’s optimistic.

Every year, CMS and many other districts ask state lawmakers to relax or abolish a 20-year-old law that forces them to wait until late August to open school. And every year they get nowhere, thwarted by the state Senate and the tourism industry’s desire for a uniform vacation season.

But Jeter told the board that efforts to provide calendar flexibility got further through the process in 2023 before ultimately being shot down. The former state legislator noted that this is an election year for legislators, which can mean that “we tend to get more moderate legislation passed.”

And he said logic is on the side of flexibility.

“No one disputes the benefit to our students for them to be able to have the calendar changed so they can take first-semester exams prior to winter break,” Jeter said.

What Jeter pointedly did not mention was the fact that more than a dozen school boards have opted to just ignore the law and open earlier in August. Cabarrus County, Gaston County, Iredell-Statesville, Lincoln County, Cleveland County, Stanly County, Rutherford County and Kannapolis were among them this year; Union County tried but backed down in the face of a lawsuit.

Board member Thelma Byers-Bailey went there.

“How important do you think the school districts that have gone rogue and instituted it in violation of the state statute have been toward moving this issue along?” she asked.

Jeter ducked a direct answer.

“I’m excited to represent the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education,” he responded, as board members broke into laughter.

He told the board wouldn’t weigh in on what other districts are doing, but said he’ll keep pushing the CMS board’s request for legal flexibility.

The General Assembly convenes next month.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.