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Carteret County Schools will appeal decision in school calendar lawsuit

The Carteret County school board held a special meeting June 13, 2024  to decide how to respond to a judge's order that invalidated their planned school calendar.
Screenshot of Carteret County board of education meeting
The Carteret County school board held a special meeting this week to decide how to respond to a judge's order that invalidated their planned school calendar.

The Carteret County Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to appeal a judge's decision in a lawsuit over the school district's calendar.

Last week, a judge invalidated Carteret County Schools' calendar because the district planned to start school this coming fall on Aug. 13, almost two weeks earlier than state law allows.

Two surf shops and a popular seafood restaurant in the coastal county sued the school district for defying the law, arguing that doing so hurts their businesses.

Lobbyists for the tourism industry originally pushed for the law to be enacted so that the start of the school year doesn’t interrupt summer tourism in the last few weeks of August. The legislature — then led by Democrats — passed the first version of the law in 2004. More recent attempts by the House to amend the law and give more schools calendar flexibility have stalled in the Senate.

“We feel like we’re getting held hostage,” said school board member Travis Day. “There’s a small little group controlling what we can do.”

Carteret County Schools was one of 29 school districts that planned to defy the law this coming fall.

“Carteret County is not the only county that adopted an illegal calendar, we just happened to be the one that's currently being sued,” said board member Dana Mull. “Our goal wasn’t to adopt an illegal calendar. Our goal was to have a calendar that meets the needs of our students and our staff.”

The Carteret County school board has argued the law violates the state constitution because it doesn't provide equal access to educational opportunities to all students. Charter schools, private schools, year-round schools, and early colleges are exempt from the law, but it generally applies to all traditional public schools unless they have a waiver.

Carteret County school board members said the law prevents high school students from enrolling in community college classes because the schedules don't align. It also forces most students to take final exams after they return from winter break.

The school board's vote to appeal was unanimous. The board is also asking for a stay so the district can keep its planned start date this fall. The board had previously indicated it might consider passing a calendar for the fall that complies with state law, but did not take that up for discussion during its open session this week.

The attorney for the businesses, Mitch Armbruster, said he will oppose the request for a stay.

“It is their right to appeal, which I hope ends in a statewide appellate decision that will stop all the illegal calendars across the state, once and for all,” Armbruster said.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org