Wake considers breaking NC’s school calendar law to start classes in early August

The Wake County school system may challenge the powerful tourism industry by defying North Carolina’s school calendar law to begin classes in early August.

Wake County school administrators will present Tuesday two options for 2024-25 school year instructional calendars that would be used by the district’s traditional-calendar schools. One option would follow the state calendar law and start Aug. 27, but the other would bypass the law to begin the school year on Aug. 7.

The board will discuss the calendar options on Tuesday, with the official vote on April 11.

Also on Tuesday, the school board will discuss a staff proposal to use $4.4 million to give extra pay for teachers and social workers who have a master’s degree. The state stopped that option a decade ago for people who hadn’t yet earned their degree.

Several school districts in the Charlotte area already made the decision to not follow the school calendar law for the 2023-24 school year. The districts that aren’t following the calendar law are much smaller than Wake.

Wake County is the state’s largest district, with more than 158,000 students, so a decision to break the calendar law will get attention. Union County, which would have been the largest district to break the calendar law, changed its mind after being sued by some parents.

Calendar law requirements

The school calendar law was passed by the General Assembly in 2004 at the request of the tourism industry and some parents. These groups were concerned about how the school year was starting earlier and earlier in August, cutting into summer vacation time.

Under current state law, schools can start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11. Some schools and districts are exempt.

School districts have long complained that the law limits their flexibility, particularly in ending the first semester early enough for high school students to take their final exams in December.

The state House has passed multiple bills over the years to give school calendar flexibility. But all the bills have died in the Senate.

Any consequences?

If Wake sticks to the school calendar law, traditional-calendar schools would begin the 2024-25 school year on Aug. 27. The last day would be June 13.

If Wake goes with the other option, traditional-calendar schools would begin the 2024-25 school year on Aug. 7. Classes would end May 23. The first semester would end Dec. 20, allowing high school students to take final exams before winter break.

It’s unclear what consequences Wake or any other school district would face for not following the calendar law.

In February, Senate leader Phil Berger said he wants to see enforcement of the calendar law on districts who defy the requirements. But House Speaker Tim Moore says there’s no interest among his colleagues in punishing districts over not following the calendar law.

Wake could see legal action, such as in Union County, if school leaders adopt a calendar that doesn’t follow stat law.