New Hanover County School Board votes to end fall 2023 semester in January

The New Hanover County Board of Education approved its 2023-24 calendar Tuesday that would end the upcoming fall semester in January 2024.
Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 11:21 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 31, 2023 at 1:28 PM EST
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The New Hanover County Board of Education approved its 2023-24 calendar Tuesday that would end the upcoming fall semester in January 2024.

This comes after months of debate and public input on how to move forward with the calendar. The board agreed to the calendar in a 5-2 vote, with Melissa Mason and Stephanie Walker opposed.

“I think it’s really not a great option,” board chairman Pete Wildeboer said. “That’s why it’s been back and forth to the committee because there’s a lot problems with all of the calendars, but this is the best of the worst, I guess you’d say.”

Walker and Mason were in favor of having a shorter first semester and having final exams in December, but the majority of the board was concerned about the loss of instructional time that could cause.

Ending the semester in January was not a popular option among parents who sent emails and participated in the calendar committee meetings, opponents said during Tuesday’s meeting. They raised concerns that students wouldn’t retain as much information over winter break to be successful on their final exams, as well as that the calendar wouldn’t line up well for high school students dual enrolled in classes at Cape Fear Community College.

But because of state law, the board didn’t have many other viable options. The state requires school districts to start after the Monday closest to Aug. 26, which makes the fall semester for the 2023-24 school year 19 days shorter than the spring semester. The state also requires schools to log 1,025 hours of instructional time each school year.

The school board did consider going against the state’s calendar law, as some other school districts in North Carolina have done, but decided against it.

“We really were reluctant to do that especially since there are other districts that are dealing with issues with that,” Walker said. “It probably would have sent a strong message but at the same time we don’t know what the repercussions would have been.”

That law has been in place since 2004, so it’s not a new issue – but the district was given more flexibility in its calendar over the last few years because of COVID-19 policies passed down by the general assembly.

One thing school board members agreed on: those with concerns about the calendar need to demand change from their state legislators. Board members agreed at a previous meeting to send a resolution to state lawmakers on behalf of the district, asking for more flexibility so they can create a calendar that fits best with the needs of the county’s students.

“I think it’s real important we look at everything we can do,” Wildeboer said. “Contact your legislators, reach out to them, let them know your concerns, and we’re going to continue to try and do our very, very best for our students.”

The proposed traditional calendar drafts can be found on the agenda here.