School calendar a local choice

Published 7:42 pm Monday, April 9, 2007

By Staff
(This editorial originally appeared in The Daily Advance of Elizabeth City.)
It’s amazing how our legislators can find ways to look foolishly out of touch. One would think that separating good legislation from bad would require less effort. Unfortunately, we’ve been reminded again that no such wisdom is inherently guaranteed to those we elect or return to office.
Such is illustrated once again in the latest round of discussions over revising the state’s mandated school calendar year.
Three years ago, the Legislature approved a calendar year for the state’s public schools, creating a start date no earlier than Aug. 25, and an ending date no later than June 10.
This preposterous law was created mostly because the state’s tourist industry didn’t want to lose its summer help, and because too many vacation homes and cottages sat empty during the latter summer weeks — after schools reopened in early August.
Sympathetic legislators were also moved by the arguments of a parental coalition — although the number of parents represented by this group seems modest — that wanted more flexibility for their summer vacation plans.
Apparently the objections of these two pressure groups — especially the tourist industry — struck home with enough legislators to warrant their taking control of the school calendar year, which up to that point had been set by, who else, educators.
Our representatives must have reasoned that someone other than educators should control the school calendar, especially when those nice folks in the travel industry — which, by the way, controls a well-funded political action committee — could make more money by keeping schools closed longer. Hence, we have the Aug. 25-June 10 school calendar year.
As it turns out, however, all is not well with the calendar, and the matter is being revisited.
New legislation being considered in the current session would add more flexibility for local school districts to set opening and closing dates. And while the same groups representing travel and parents are clamoring to keep what’s already on the books, legislators are having to listen to another group of advocates: educators.
School administrators, board members, teachers and others have rightfully complained that the rigid calendar schedule implemented in 2004 is not working for education. Not only is the calendar creating scheduling bottlenecks, curriculum choices and missed instructional days because of weather, it’s affecting student performance.
It’s unconscionable that the Legislature didn’t — as we recommended three years ago — connect educational relevance and the school calendar year.
It’s also an egregious oversight that they failed to consider that schools are under intense scrutiny — which the Legislature itself helped create — for accountability, as educators are charged with accepting additional parent-type roles while wrestling with testing duties and facing the challenges of preparing students for a vastly changing global marketplace.
With those immense tasks put upon schools by the public and their representatives, it should be obvious that school calendars are better left under the control of the schools — the local school districts specifically.
Never should the Legislature have even ventured into this realm where it has proven itself so inept.
While it’s reassuring that some wisdom is rearing its head in Raleigh, make no mistake: The Legislature’s best course is not to revise bad legislation — it’s to get out and stay out of the school calendar business altogether. Let local school boards decide what’s best for their students.