Efforts by Craven County Schools to get on one modified school calendar for the 2013-14 school year have failed.
However, school officials say the issue is not dead for 2014-15 and beyond.
Any change in the current three-calendar system in Craven County would have to be approved by the General Assembly because of current state law. Despite the introduction of a local bill aimed at allowing the change in the N.C. House earlier this year, a Senate version never followed. And with the school system’s deadline for state action on the calendar request approaching on Friday, General Assembly approval of the proposed change is not likely.
"The reason is that so many others filed local bills," said Carr Ipock, chairman of the Craven County Board of Education. "That took the focus off the local bills and put it on the state law. There were requests from across the state."
A state law approved in 2004 sets Aug. 25 as the opening day for classes in public schools, other than those schools on a year-round calendar. Craven County school officials wanted to back that up to Aug. 5, which would allow high school exams and some other required testing to be completed prior to the traditional two-week Christmas break.
Under the current traditional calendar, exams take place in the middle of January when the semester ends and after students have been off for about two weeks for Christmas break. Ipock said such a situation does not benefit students.
"We’re losing those couple of weeks in January," Ipock said. "We come back (from Christmas break) and spend the first two weeks in review getting ready for exams before we start introducing new material. A lot of people feel that is lost time."
Craven school officials have also said one calendar among all schools would be better for system-wide training of teachers and administrators because all the county’s teachers would share the same work days.
The modified calendar would also have a one-week break in the fall and another one-week break in the spring, with classes ending for the year around May 23.
Ipock said Craven County Schools would not extend the Friday deadline for legislative action and instead revert back to the previously approved three-calendar system to include the traditional calendar, year-round calendar for Havelock and Arthur Edwards elementary schools and Tucker Creek Middle School, and the early-college calendar for schools in New Bern and Havelock.
"We wanted to have that deadline in order to get the information out to our families," Ipock said. "We know that in the next month or so that families would be planning for summer vacations, and we did not want to create any hardship with our families with the issue of the calendar."
However, Ipock said school officials have not given up on the idea of a modified calendar for Craven County.
"We’re going to talk to our legislators and hope to approve it for the following year, for 2014-15," he said. "It’s our fallback position."
A group called Save Our Summers spearheaded the effort to get the state to pass legislation mandating that schools start no earlier than Aug. 25 and conclude no later than June 10. Members of the group believed that earlier and earlier starts to the school year in August were hurting the economies of tourist destinations, such as those along the coast.
However, Ipock believes that starting school in early August and ending in late May actually extends the tourist season, as out-of-state tourists will continue their vacations through August as North Carolina students return to class.
"Our schools get out earlier and start using the beach before everyone else," he said. "And then everyone else still comes down."
He said he could appreciate the concerns of businesses that rely on tourists, but educators have other priorities.
"We need to look at what the best calendar is for education and what is best for student learning," he said.
Ipock said he believed that momentum was building across the state to do away with the state-mandated controls over local school calendars, but legislators in the General Assembly have yet to buy into it.
"I’m sure at some point it will happen," Ipock said. "What we’re doing is somewhat insane. Working through the politics of it is quite a process."