Schools seek waiver for extended year

Published 12:42 am Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Beaufort County’s public-school leaders plan to seek a waiver from a new requirement extending the school year by five days.

As a result, officials with Beaufort County Schools contend, public-school students should not experience shorter winter and spring breaks during the coming school year.

The Beaufort County Board of Education is likely to discuss plans to apply for the waiver when it meet Thursday, according to Sarah Hodges, public-information officer for Beaufort County Schools.

This decision follows action Friday by the State Board of Education, whose members approved a policy outlining the process for local school districts and charter schools to apply for waivers to the new 185-day instructional calendar for the 2011-12 school year.

At its Friday meeting, the state board granted authority to State Superintendent June Atkinson to approve waivers for those schools that to use up to five instructional days as teacher workdays for professional development on changes to the statewide public-school curriculum and standards.

The new curriculum and standards are scheduled to be implemented in the 2012-13 school year.

“The Board has long advocated increasing the instructional calendar year for students and the recently passed legislation is a positive step in this direction,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison said in a news release announcing the waiver policy. “However, the reality is that school districts and charter schools have already adopted their instructional calendars for 2011-12 and this waiver policy provides the needed sensitivity to that fact.”

In one of the special provisions in the budget bill approved earlier this month, the N.C. General Assembly added five instructional days to the public-school calendar and increased the required instructional hours to 1,025, but it did not extend the school year. This is an increase from the 180 days and 1,000 instructional hours requirement that has been in place for many years.

As part of the provision lengthening the school year, state legislators gave the State Board of Education the authority to grant waivers if it “finds that it will enhance student performance to do so.”

Republican legislators have said the additional school days and class time would benefit student learning.

Local school leaders across the state and advocates of open government have said the changes were done with little public debate and advance notice to public-school leaders.

Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps, in an earlier interview with the Washington Daily News, had said the change could lead to the elimination of needed teacher workdays or shorter winter and spring breaks.

Friday, state public-school officials promised that waiver requests would be processed in a timely manner so local school districts can make key decisions about their 2011-12 school calendars and professional-development calendars.