Aug 21, 2023 - News

Why Charlotte-Mecklenburg students start later than other school districts

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

CMS Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

Charlotte-Mecklenburg students return to class next Monday — weeks after children in other nearby school districts started.

  • That’s because many other school systems in the region are purposely defying state law.

Why it matters: North Carolina public schools aren’t legally supposed to start any earlier than the week of Aug. 26. The law is intended to prolong the summer, so families spend more time — and money — traveling to the beaches and mountains. It’s supposed to be a boost for the state’s tourism industry.

  • The late start, however, pushes mid-year exams until after winter break, when students may forget some of what they learned. Also, school schedules are then out of sync with colleges’, where some high schoolers take courses.

Across Charlotte, private schools — from Charlotte Catholic to Charlotte Latin — started last week. Charter schools are also exempt from the calendar law.

Yes, but: Although the calendar law has been in place since 2004, a growing number of school districts — 16 total now — have started opening earlier over the last three years without exemptions. In 2020-21, the North Carolina General Assembly required public schools to start earlier than usual to make up for learning loss. Several districts saw the benefit of starting early again the following year.

  • When they didn’t face any repercussions, other systems took note.
  • Near Charlotte, Gaston County Schools, Kannapolis City Schools, Cabarrus County Schools, Iredell-Statesville Schools, Lincoln County Schools, Cleveland County Schools, Stanly County Schools and Rutherford County Schools have all already resumed classes.

Flashback: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has attempted to open schools the legal way. Earlier this year, it tried to pass a bill to have the option to start as early as Aug. 11, but the legislation didn’t move forward in the General Assembly.

No clear policy dictates what happens when a district breaks the calendar law, although they could face a legal challenge. The Union County Board of Education was sued for trying to start earlier; one of the plaintiffs was a summer camp owner who said she lost business. Doomed to lose the suit, the school board then backtracked on its decision and is opening at the same time as CMS.

  • So far, the General Assembly hasn’t taken any action to stop local school boards from ignoring the rules. Senate leader Phil Berger has warned defiant school districts they are setting a bad example for the youth. But the school districts that have opened earlier claim they’re doing what’s in students’ best interest.

Between the lines: Groups in support of the calendar law, like the North Carolina Association of Realtors and the Restaurant and Lodging Association, contribute thousands of dollars to legislators’ election campaigns through political action committees, The Charlotte Observer reported.

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