Schools seek weather waiver for calendar

Severe weather in recent years may help area schools avoid a growing school calendar that local officials say lacks flexibility.

Catawba County Schools (CCS) appears to qualify for a “good cause” or “winter waiver” that would allow the system an alternative to an unpopular school calendar proposed by the state.

In June, the N.C. General Assembly approved a 185-day school calendar year that must start Aug. 25 and end June 10. The calendar requires five more days of student instruction than in past years.

About half the state’s 120 school districts have asked the State Board of Education for a waiver to use up to five of the 185 days for teacher development. At the request of Gov. Beverly Perdue, consideration of those waivers was delayed.

However, school systems in Catawba County may qualify for an existing “winter waiver” that would allow schools to open earlier and finish by Memorial Day.

According to N.C. General Statute 115C-84.2, schools systems that have been closed for all, or part, of eight days per year during any four of the last 10 years because of severe weather conditions can apply for the “good cause” or “winter waiver.”

CCS appears to qualify for the waiver and alternate calendar.

According to records, CCS Superintendent Glenn E. Barger said, CCS has been closed or delayed for at least eight days during the 2010-11, 2009-10, 2003-04 and 2002-03 school years.

Barger said officials are still combing records looking for additional years that would qualify. He said the current 2011-12 school year can also be counted if at least eight days are missed or delayed by June 2012.

If CCS qualifies for the “winter waiver,” the system's board of education must request a waiver. It must then be approved by the state.

If approved, the board would then determine the opening and closing dates for the school year.

“It gives you a lot of flexibility to do things,” Barger said. “It would allow us to finish up the first semester prior to Christmas break and gets exams done. It would get us out of that mess and also enable more flexibility with our schedule.”

The county’s other two school systems may also be eligible for the winter waiver.

In a county in which there are multiple school districts, Barger said, all systems become automatically eligible if one system qualifies for the waiver.

Newton-Conover City Schools (NCCS) Superintendent Barry Redmond said his school system would not typically miss or have delays on eight school days in a year, but he is intrigued by the opportunity to become eligible for the waiver.

“If it’s allowable, we would certainly want to do that,” Redmond said.

“It would give us flexibility that we don’t have. We would like to have high school exams and have a 90-day period before Christmas break.”

If NCCS and Hickory City Schools do apply for the waiver, Redmond thinks it will help area schools keep similar schedules.

“We try to be similar if not exact,” Redmond said. “That’s always important because there are connections across all three districts.”