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Cabarrus Schools join the ranks of districts ignoring North Carolina's calendar law

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Cabarrus County School Board
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Cabarrus County school board member Carolyn Carpenter speaks in favor of adopting an early-start calendar for 2023-24.

The Cabarrus County School Board voted unanimously Monday to start classes in early August next year, defying the state’s school calendar law and building momentum for what appears to be a regional trend.

North Carolina’s calendar law, approved in 2004, requires most districts to wait until late August to bring students back. That requirement is popular with the tourism industry and unpopular with most school districts. Cabarrus County is among many that have asked the General Assembly for flexibility to start earlier so first-semester exams can be given before winter break.

The Cabarrus board considered two options for 2023: One that complies with the law, starting classes on Aug. 28, and one that doesn’t. The early start option brings students back on Aug. 9 and ends school on May 23.

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Cabarrus County Schools

Before the vote, board member Rob Walter posed a question: "So it’s OK if we vote on this early start? Is that what the goal is here? It’s legal to do?"

There was a six-second silence before Holly Grimsley, board chair, asked for comments from other members.

"I think the biggest thing is to get these exams over before the break, so I think we ought to give it a shot," said board member Carolyn Carpenter. "But again, I think we ought to be sure we work with some of our teachers because they’ve been used to having that longer summer break."

The current year ends June 8, which would leave students and employees with a shorter summer break in 2023.

No one else spoke about the plan before the unanimous vote to approve the early-start option.

This year three districts in the Charlotte region — Gaston, Cleveland and Rutherford counties — started early without permission from the General Assembly. There have apparently been no consequences. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh has said the board plans to approve an early start in 2023.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.