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Gaston schools will keep defying NC calendar law for two more years

The Gaston County school board votes unanimously to adopt 2024 and 2025 calendars that start classes earlier than state law allows.
Gaston Board of Education
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The Gaston County school board votes unanimously to adopt 2024 and 2025 calendars that start classes earlier than state law allows.

The Gaston County school board has been a leader in North Carolina school districts’ rebellion against the state’s calendar law, and on Monday the board decided once again to put constituents’ wishes above legal mandates.

Since 2004, North Carolina law has required most school districts to wait until “the Monday closest to Aug. 26” to start classes. The law was pushed by the tourism industry, which wants a uniform summer vacation season.

School boards across the state have complained for years that it makes sense to start earlier so high school students can take first-semester exams before winter break. When lawmakers didn’t budge, Gaston County was among three districts that defied the law by opening early in 2022. There was no penalty, and this year 15 districts opened early.

It would have been 16, with the Union County school board joining Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell-Statesville, Lincoln, Kannapolis and others voting to open early without state permission. But two parents, including one who runs a summer riding camp, sued the district and the board backed down. A lawyer whose firm represents tourism groups represented those parents.

During the 2023 legislative session, the General Assembly took no action to either relax the calendar law or put teeth into it. And on Monday night, the Gaston board unanimously approved calendars for 2024 and 2025 that will start classes well before the legally allowable date.

No one mentioned the state law. But district administrator Morgen Houchard told the board that the early start options were the overwhelming favorite with employees, parents, students and community members who responded to a district calendar survey.

For each year, there were two options that complied with the law by starting in late August. One ended the first semester after winter break, and one ended it before the break by shortening the first semester and shifting days to the second semester. Those options won approval from about 12% of survey respondents, Houchard said.

The early start options — opening Aug. 14 in 2024 and Aug. 13 in 2025 — got a thumbs-up from roughly 88%.

The school board held no discussion before Monday's vote.

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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.