The 2020-2021 year-round school year was literally just hours away for year-round students in Cumberland County Wednesday night. Then came the stunning announcement from Cumberland County Schools, that the remote start for year-round schools would be delayed to August 17.
“Previously, Cumberland County Schools (CCS) announced that its four year-round schools would begin the 2020-2021 school year remotely on Thursday, July 9;” a social media announcement from CCS said. “However, based on a recent legal opinion from the North Carolina General Assembly, the district’s year-round schools will now follow the traditional calendar and begin the new school year on August 17.”
The four year-round schools in Cumberland County were set to start schools today, Thursday, July 9, remotely. In fact, Reid Ross Classical High School held its virtual “open-house” Wednesday evening. The impacted schools are Anne Chesnutt Middle, E.E. Miller Elementary, Reid Ross Classical Middle and Reid Ross Classical High School.
The stunning move comes as an apparent different legal interpretation of a new piece of legislation from the North Carolina Senate was issued.
“District officials were informed that recently adopted Senate Bill 113 prohibits year-round schools from beginning the new school year remotely,” the CCS release said. “This interpretation of the bill was confirmed by the General Assembly legal opinion and differs from the broader interpretation of the bill originally provided by the Governor’s Office, North Carolina Association of School Administrators, RTI International, and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.”
Cumberland County Schools held a specially-called board meeting Thursday morning. In the meeting, the decision to amend the year-round calendar to match the traditional-year calendar for the 2020-2021 school year only was passed unanimously. There is a chance the year-round schools could revert back to the year-round calendar in the second semester, if legislation is passed that would allow for it.
They also laid out the timeline for what led to the last-minute decision:
- July 1: Gov. Roy Cooper says in press conference that year-round schools should plan to start their years remotely.
- July 2: Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly sent an email to the board stating that the School Board Association “had raised a question about the statute and the legal ability of the districts to begin remotely.” This was based on two conflicting pieces of legislation from the General Assembly.
- July 7: The General Assembly issues an opinion letter that raised questions about the legality of opening year-round schools.
- July 8: The NC Senate did not take up legislation that had passed the State House unanimously. By not taking up that new legislation, a problem that was created by the conflicting legislation was not resolved, and Cumberland County Schools was forced to take action to avoid any violations of the conflicting statutes.
Dr. Connelly said CCS could not open the school year in person for the four schools, because current COVID-19 numbers made that too risky. He pointed out that seven percent of all cases in Cumberland County are children aged 0-17.
Originally, NC Senate Bill 113 laid out provisions for the unusual starts to the school year expected in the Fall. And the Governor’s office, as well as the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, had given guidance that allowed for year-round schools to begin. That changed abruptly Wednesday evening. as General Assembly guidance said otherwise.
North Carolina Senate Bill 113 in question appears to allow for the year-round schools to start as planned, remotely.
The likely text in question reads: “A local board of education may alter the adopted calendar of a single-track year-round school in a manner that no longer meets the requirements of Section 2.1(6)b. of this act, if both of the following are met: 1. The local board of education determines the modification is necessary to ensure the health and safety of students. 2. The altered calendar complies with all other requirements for year-round schools in this section.”
It is unclear exactly what provision the General Assembly is calling in to question.
“Throughout this process, we have followed the guidance of state officials and associations, which has now changed to align with the legal opinion released by the General Assembly,” said CCS Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly, Jr. “We regret the inconvenience this change will cause our students, families and employees.”
The schools will now follow the traditional school-year calendar, currently set to begin on August 17. Final guidelines for how those schools will open has not yet been issued.