The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education approved the school calendar for 2023-24 on Tuesday, and unlike some districts in the state, decided not to defy state law.
The first day of class for students next school year will be Aug. 28, in accordance with a state law passed in 2004 that calls for the state’s school districts to start their school year on the Monday closest to Aug. 26.
Driven by the state’s tourism industry, which argues that it loses money when school starts earlier in August, the law is unpopular among many educators because it pushes first-semester testing to January, a few weeks past the two-week winter break. Middle- and high school students are testing this week in local schools.
Some districts have chosen to defy state law and create their own calendars with an earlier start date. The school board for Union County Public Schools voted to start the school year there on Aug. 9, prompting a civil lawsuit from two parents and the owner of a summer camp who says the earlier date will disrupt her business.
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“I know we have an overwhelming number of folks who really pushed us to start earlier, and I want to state for the record that although other districts are doing that, the risk is much higher than the reward,” Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools board member Sabrina Coone said, referring to the potential for litigation.
The school district posted the calendar on its website to garner public feedback. Nearly 400 people responded, Chief Operations Officer Lauren Richards told the school board. About 60 respondents wanted an early start date.
A team of administrators, teachers, childhood nutrition workers and counselors collaborated on the calendar, Richards said.
The new calendar sticks closely to the current calendar. It keeps a two-week winter break, aligns spring break with Easter and gives teachers days to work in their classrooms, without assigned professional development or students. The new calendar also has a three-day break for Thanksgiving.
The final day of class for student in 2024 will be June 7.
Superintendent Tricia McManus said the district would like more flexibility to come up with its own calendar. It’s an issue that the state’s superintendents talk about regularly in their monthly meetings, she said.
“We definitely want to start earlier and get exams in before the break. But it’s very clear what the law says,” McManus said. “Superintendents are asking legislators to please seek policy changes.”
Some districts, such as those in the western part of the state, have been given waivers to start earlier because they tend to have more snow days. McManus said the school district has not requested a waiver.
She said the district will continue to lobby for calendar flexibility.