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PCS Calendar Answers & Information for Questions & Feedback
The Board of Education and central office administrators at Pitt County Schools fully acknowledge, value and completely agree with feedback we have received in regard to scheduling exams before winter break and starting school earlier in August. What is tying our hands is the school calendar law.
Please review the FAQs below in hopes it will offer clarity and transparency to the process, the need for the collection of feedback and how it is utilized, and how you can support efforts to see a change that would benefit students.
1) What is the school calendar law?
The school calendar law is a state law that sets the minimum standards for public school calendars in North Carolina.
These minimum standards include a minimum number of instructional days or hours. Under the calendar law, students must either receive 185 days of instruction or 1,025 instructional hours. Since 2004, school calendar law has also set a requirement that no public school start the school year earlier than "the Monday closest to August 26" and end no later than "the Friday closest to June 11."
While there are other exceptions, the two main exceptions to the provision of the law setting a start date are written into the school calendar law. One exception is for year-round schools and the other exception is for schools that can make a showing of "good cause" for a waiver that allows them to start seven days earlier. Good cause is defined by the law, and to meet that definition, Pitt County Schools would have to show that in at least 4 years out of the last 10 years we were out of school for an emergency for 8 or more days (in each of the 4 years). Good cause waivers are granted by the state board of education. The other legal exceptions to the calendar law are not applicable to any schools other than our two early colleges.
2) Why does the school calendar law force us to have exams after winter break?
The school calendar law forces public schools to start late in August and this, in turn, causes an imbalance in the year. Instead of having 90 instructional days before winter break, we end up with around 75-80 instructional days at most (before winter break). We believe this is not sufficient instructional time for students to master content standards in a subject area and, for this reason, we have exams after winter break.
3) Would adding hours to the instructional day be an option to balance semesters?
While this is an option to balance semesters, adding hours to an instructional day for high school students only extends a class period by five minutes, which is highly unlikely to result in sufficient instructional time compared to two-and-a-half weeks (in the same course). In addition to academic concerns, reducing student instructional days by five weeks over the course of a school year will have other unintended consequences, such as families having to obtain additional childcare, decreased hours for bus drivers and potentially increased school lunch costs, which are averaged over the time period that meals are served.
4) Why doesn’t Pitt County Schools seek a waiver from the law?
Pitt County Schools cannot show that in at least 4 years out of the last 10 years we were out of school for an emergency for 8 or more days (in each of the 4 years). Because we cannot meet this threshold, we cannot seek a waiver from the Department of Public Instruction to start school seven days prior to the Monday closest to August 26. While five additional instructional days might enable us to push exams before winter break, the semesters would still be imbalanced and there would be few teacher workdays in the fall.
5) Can the Board consider any other action if a waiver is not available?
For many years, the Board of Education has asked our local legislative delegation to pursue a local bill that would give us a legal exemption to the August start date. Our local legislative delegations have been very supportive of our school system and introduced local bills to seek a calendar law start date exemption. Most recently, a local bill in support of this passed the North Carolina House of 113 to 2, but unfortunately, no action was taken in the North Carolina Senate, so Pitt County Schools did not obtain an exception to the calendar through the path of a local bill.
6) Why doesn’t the Board just choose to ignore the law and set a calendar that it wants?
As an entity of local government, we exist by virtue of the state and are required to comply with laws set by higher authority, including the State of North Carolina, our state’s constitution, the United States government, and the United States Constitution. This is an inherent part of American democracy - that no one may ignore the law or refuse to obey the law. We are aware that multiple local education agencies (LEA) have decided to disregard that part of the law.
When a member of the Board of Education takes office, the member is required by state law to swear an oath or solemnly affirm that they will uphold and comply with the "Constitution and laws of the United States, and the Constitution and laws of North Carolina." Our Board members take this promise seriously, and while they are actively seeking legal means to obtain a waiver to the school calendar law, members have stated that they are not willing to break their oaths or affirmations to uphold the law.
7) Why do you ask for feedback on the calendar if the calendar law is so restrictive?
Your input is absolutely taken into consideration. We consider it when setting teacher workdays and school breaks, and we have taken it into consideration on graduation and the end of school. We also hear what you are saying about the late August start and having exams before winter break. While our hands are tied until there is either a change in Section 115C-84.2 of the North Carolina General Statutes, a local exemption to the law, or we move to year-round school, your feedback is used to show support and helps provide data to the General Assembly in making decisions about changing portions of the law.
8) What can I do to support efforts to see a change in that state law?
The Board of Education encourages you to write letters to the people who represent you in our general assembly and to the leaders they elect to chair the bodies. You might thank members of our local legislative delegation for their robust support to change the school calendar law and express to them that it is your desire that they continue to do so. You might also want to consider writing to the President Pro Tempore of the North Carolina State Senate and the Speaker of the North Carolina State House to encourage them to change the law, and if you know people who are their constituents in their districts, encourage them to write letters, too.