Survey results show support for earlier start date for school; board will vote on academic calendar on Thursday
By an overwhelming margin, parents, staff members and students said they would like the 2024-25 school year to start earlier in the year, according to results from a survey sent out last month.
But the calendar that the respondents favored, which has the first day of school on Aug. 12 and the final day on May 20, ignores a nearly 20-year state law that mandates school districts start no earlier than the Monday before Aug. 26 and no later than the Friday closest to June 11.
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education is expected to vote on the 2024-25 academic calendar on Thursday. If it chooses to start school earlier, it would join more than a dozen school districts in the state that have chosen to defy the law.
Though critical of the state mandate, the school board has been reluctant to buck it.
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The school districts that have done so have yet to be penalized.
However, Union County’s school board reversed its decision to start earlier after it faced lawsuits from businesses that said an early start would harm its business.
School staff presented the school board with two calendar options for 2024-25 at its Dec. 12 meeting, with both calendars following the state mandate.
However, board members said they would like to see a third option added to the survey, one that starts earlier in the school year, allowing the first semester to end and final exams to be taken before the two-week holiday break.
A later start has pushed the first semester into January, which educators have argued has impacted student performance on exams.
Board member Alex Bohannon asked Dionne Jenkins, the district’s general counsel about the legal ramifications of ignoring the law.
“Are there financial consequences or is it you get sued to compel you to follow the law?” Bohannon asked.
“It could be either one. It depends on what claims and who brings the claims,” she said.
If the school board votes to defy the statute, it would be the largest school district in the state to take such a stand.
According to survey results, there were 2,758 votes for the earlier school year, with a combined 1,428 votes for two other options, both of which followed the state mandate.
The school district needs to have its calendar in place sometime this week, and there is not enough time to pursue a waiver from the state.
If the earlier start plan is approved, it would shorten the coming summer break by two weeks, impacting summer school, cleaning schedules and reduce the amount of money the district saves in utility bills.
The state took control of school calendars in 2004, driven in part by pressure from the tourism industry, which said that returning to school earlier in August means fewer trips to the beach and mountains, resulting in fewer tourism dollars.
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