Decision when to start school should be made local

A bill making its way through the General Assembly would include Robeson among 20 counties in the state that would, as part of a pilot program, be given local autonomy on the start of the school year for a three-year test period.

We say great, not necessarily because of any expectation concerning what our local school board might decide, but because when school begins and ends is a decision that should be made locally.

There doesn’t seem to be much opposition to House Bill 389, which passed 104-6 in the state House, and now needs Senate approval and the governor’s signature. The bill allows 20 school systems, including Robeson’s, the flexibility to start the school year not before Aug. 10 beginning in either 2018 or 2019 and for three consecutive years. Currently, North Carolina schools can start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11. Charter schools and year-round schools are exempted.

The state Board of Education and N.C. Department of Commerce would then study the academic and economic effects and after three years report the findings to the legislature, which presumbly could provide the same option for the remaining school systems unless bad outcomes have resulted.

The state law that targets the Aug. 26 start date was passed in 2004 under pressure from the tourism industry, mostly in the beach communities, which was fretting because school systems were starting earlier and earlier, therefore cutting the summer vacation, meaning less time at the ocean for families. At that time, the Public Schools of Robeson County was returning teachers and students to school as early as the second Monday of August.

School systems have been working since then to get the law overturned or relaxed, saying that the earlier start enables learning. They argue that the shorter summer helps students retain more of what they learned from one year to the next, and the earlier school start allows for mid-term exams to be held before the Christmas break, not after, so students are better prepared for the tests — and can enjoy the holiday, and not spend it prepping for a major test.

A one-size-fits-all approach makes no sense for a state like North Carolina that has 100 counties and stretches from the coast to the mountains. Beach communities would probably prefer a later start to accommodate tourists who are headed their way and as part of that, young people are needed for seasonal jobs. In the mountains school systems might be wise to pick an earlier start, knowing that there is a high probability of lost school days to snow and other winter events.

The point is, the decision should be local.

We are confident that the three-year pilot program will determine there are no significant and detrimental economic costs that the tourism industry will pay, and hopeful that there are indeed educational benefits in the systems that opt for an earlier start. From there, other counties should be given the same option.


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