Aug 21, 2023 - News

North Carolina schools defy state law by cutting summer short

Illustration of a chalkboard with "Sorry We're Closed" written in chalk.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Triangle public school students return to class next Monday — weeks after children in other school districts across the state have already started.

  • That's because those other school systems are purposely defying state law.

Why it matters: North Carolina public schools, with a few exceptions for smaller districts, 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 learn. Also, school schedules are then out of sync with colleges', where some high schoolers take courses.
  • A growing number of districts — 16 total now — have opened earlier without exemptions over the last three years since the calendar law took effect in 2004.

Flashback: In 2020-21, the General Assembly required public schools to start earlier than usual to make up for learning loss from the COVID-19 shutdowns. Several districts saw the benefits of the change and did so again the following year.

  • When they didn't face any repercussions, other systems took note.

Some districts have attempted to open early schools the legal way. Wake County and others tried to pass a bill this year to have the option to start as early as Aug. 11, but the legislation didn't move forward in the General Assembly.

Reality check: No clear policy exists for districts that break the calendar law, although they could face a legal challenge.

  • The Union County Board of Education got hit with a lawsuit for trying to start earlier this year; one of the plaintiffs was a summer camp owner who said she lost business. Doomed to lose the suit, the school board backtracked on its decision and is opening at the same time as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
  • So far, the General Assembly hasn't taken any action to stop local school boards from breaking the rules. Senate leader Phil Berger has warned defiant school districts they are setting a bad example for the youth, but legislation implementing repercussions has been unsuccessful, WFAE reported.

Between the lines: Groups in support of the calendar law, such as 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.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Raleigh.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Raleigh stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Raleigh.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more