Calendar Bill Would Extend School Vacation But Causes Concern

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 29, 2004

RALEIGH – As the 2005-2006 school year rapidly approaches, parents and students all across the state may soon be faced with the dilemma of what to do with the extended summer vacation that would result from a new piece of proposed legislation.

Governor Mike Easley was presented with the Calendar Bill (originally House Bill 1464), on June 18 and has 30 days (until August 19) to determine whether or not he will sign the bill into law.

The new law, which would mandate that students start classes no earlier than August 25 and recess for summer vacation no later than June 10 (with the exception of year-round schools) would cut back the number of teacher workdays while threatening to slice into traditional calendar holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

&uot;This is a major concern, not only for us, but those in other counties as well,&uot; said Hertford County Public School Superintendent Dennis Deloatch. &uot;School districts already have the flexibility to start and end school as needed, but the new legislation would require us to move forward and implement these changes according to the mandates of the legislature.&uot;

Deloatch expressed concern over the challenges the new law would present in maintaining the quality of educational standards for students and staff in an effort to keep everyone satisfied.

&uot;First of all, the law would reduce staff development days for teachers from 10 to 5 days, which would mean they will have fewer opportunities to visit school improvement plans and less development opportunities during the school year,&uot; he said.

&uot;In the past, our teachers were accustomed to using these work days to provide additional staff development opportunities, prepare grades and report cards, revisit their School Improvement Plans, extended Grade Level and Team meetings and disaggregate test data.

&uot;If this bill is signed, teachers will have to adjust to not having the extra workdays to complete some of the necessary tasks they have been doing. In addition, we have also used some of these workdays as student and staff make-up days as a result of inclement weather.&uot;

Deloatch also expressed a second concern over how the new law would affect the length and duration of the semester at the high school level.

&uot;Typically, the 180 days required for instruction have been divided into two 90 day blocks, but under the new law requiring students to begin classes on August 26, there would only be 79 days before the Christmas holiday leaving a 100 day block for the second semester. That means the semester would have to be extended past January.

&uot;Our students and teachers are accustomed to having two weeks off during the Christmas holiday and prior to the new calendar requirements, many school districts tried to complete the coursework and testing for the semester before the Christmas holiday.&uot;

Deloatch commented that the existing calendar is good because it allows teachers and administrators time to complete grades and schedules for the upcoming semester and affords teachers the opportunity to return to school one day before students in preparation for the second semester.

Northampton County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. James Pickens echoed Deloatch’s sentiments, stating that he didn’t feel it was educationally sound to place the increased strain on the teachers and administrators trying to implement the curriculum effectively.

&uot;If the Governor signs this into law, it is going to require a major adjustment,&uot; said Pickens. &uot;We are going to have to start looking at our calendar to figure out how we are going to organize everything in compliance with what is mandated by the federal and state governments. It will definitely be a major change.&uot;

Pickens expressed concern about the problems that would likely arise as a result of the cutback in teacher workdays as well as how the law would affect parents needing additional or extended childcare.

&uot;It’s going to cause problems with make-up days,&uot; he said. &uot;In the spring semester, for instance, should we encounter severe or inclement weather, it would shorten the number of workdays the teachers would have because we would have to use that time to make up classes, cut into Easter vacation and/or move the last day of school to a later date.

&uot;But you have to realize, we will not be able to go beyond June 10, making it all the more difficult,&uot; he said.

&uot;Further, I don’t know what kind of stress it will place on families who rely on childcare for their children during this extended summer vacation.&uot;

Pickens also noted that the shortening of teacher workdays would negatively affect staff development and training as well as teacher re-certification.

&uot;Teachers are required, by law, to update their credentials every five years because they are expected to stay abreast of the educational changes and maintain the quality of education delivery,&uot; he said, &uot;and this new law places an additional weight on the shoulders of teachers who will likely be spending more time outside the classroom to maintain that level of excellence.&uot;

Although the new law would cut back on the number of required teacher workdays, salaries would not be affected.

Pickens explained that he and a host of other school superintendents from across the state had adopted a resolution against the house bill in an effort to prevent it from being passed in the state legislature, but their efforts failed.

&uot;We had representatives in the North Carolina General Assembly trying to lobby against this piece of legislation, but according to some surveys performed on parents, professional educators, those in tourism and some other organizations there were a lot of people in support of it,&uot; he said.

Deloatch commented that the National Teacher Association of Educators also supported the bill.

&uot;Many superintendents voiced their concerns to the assembly to no avail,&uot; said Deloatch who supports the idea that the decision should be left up to each individual district.

Agreeing with him, Pickens stated, &uot;With the existing calendar you have some local control over how you handle certain situations, like holidays and vacations. I feel that the system we already have in place is working and as far as I know, the parents and students have no problem with it.&uot;

Pickens also highlighted, &uot;The strengths of one county are not the same as the strengths of another county. Taking the economic situation of one part of the state and applying it across the board doesn’t reflect those differences. The choice should have been up to each individual and the Local Education Agency.&uot;

Pickens and Deloatch both commented that they would do their best to comply with the new standards should the bill be signed into law.

&uot;If it becomes law, we have to do what is mandated by the state and federal government, but that being said we will do everything we can to make sure those changes occur as smoothly as possible,&uot; said Deloatch.

&uot;Change is painful, always has been, always will be,&uot; said Pickens, &uot;Situations will arise that we won’t expect no matter how much we try to predict them, but we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there.&uot;

According to the democratic process, citizens have the right to oppose the bill while it is still in the General Assembly by contacting their legislators. Should the bill be passed by the General Assembly, contacting the office of the Governor and requesting him not to sign the bill can express opposition.

However, if the bill be is signed into law, the only way to overturn the decision would be for citizens to call their state legislators, ask them for a recall of the law and request a referendum so they could cast their individual ballots in favor of or against the issue.

The bill was sponsored by Constance Wilson (Mecklenberg County), William Culpepper III (Chowan, Dare, Gates, Perquimans and Tyrrell counties), Davis Miner (Wake County) and Dewey Hill (Brunswick and Columbus counties).

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