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Acknowledging student, teacher and parent concerns, the Wilson County Board of Education elected Monday not to shorten the holiday break, extend the semester into next year and ask students to take exams in January.
In an effort to find makeup days to offset instructional days lost due to Hurricanes Florence and Michael, school administrators proposed changes to Wilson County’s traditional school calendar Cheryl Wilson, assistant superintendent, laid out the dilemma administrators faced.
Wilson County Schools was closed for students and staff on Sept. 13, 14, 17 and 18 as a result of Florence and on Oct. 11, the school system lost another day due to Michael.
The board changed Oct. 19 from a teacher workday to make up one day but still needed to make up four more.
Wilson recommended changing Jan. 2 from an annual leave day to an instructional day for students and proposed changing Jan. 3 and 4 and Feb. 18 from teacher workdays to instructional days for students.
Had the changes been approved, the end of the first semester would have moved from Dec. 21 to Jan. 11. Exams would have been conducted the week of Jan. 7-11. Report card date would have moved from Jan. 9 to Jan. 17.
Board member Gary Farmer said students with whom he’d spoken had urged the system not to split the semester up.
“They said, ‘Please let us finish up the end of the year with the testing and all. Don’t carry it into January,’” Farmer said, adding that teachers had also expressed similar concerns.
Board member Velma Barnes said she received several calls from parents concerned about the proposed changes. According to Barnes, teachers were concerned that they would have lost momentum if exams were taken after the holiday break and that they “would be heartbroken” if that happened.
Beverly Boyette, who is not a member of the subcommittee that made the calendar recommendation but is a member of the full school board, listened to the arguments.
“My input would be that our No. 1 priority as far as this calendar is concerned is that we end the first semester and the exams before Christmas,” Boyette said. “If it is hours we are short, if that is our concern, add an hour, 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes in the afternoon. Whatever we do, the goal should be to finish that semester.”
Boyette said she had heard from more than 30 people — teachers, students and parents.
Barnes said another complaint she heard was that people have already made plans for vacations.
“A couple of people I know said they would not be back from their vacations. They could not get a refund of their money and that means they would have an unexcused absence,” Barnes said.
Another concern was those students who planned to graduate early.
“Early graduates who planned to attend a community college or university would find it very difficult to move on to that transition to higher learning because of having to wait until the semester ends,” Barnes said.
Farmer said proposed calendar changes could affect the positive momentum and morale schools have at the moment.
“It’s a tough decision in my mind,” said board member Henry Mercer. “Where are we doing the most good, giving up four days of instruction or providing those four days of instruction and having an interruption in there? We are giving up something in either direction we go.”
Chairwoman Christine Fitch pointed out that schools faced not just one interruption but two because of the hurricanes.
“We are always behind — an issue because of the weather because we can’t overcome. We can’t foresee,” Fitch said. “Whatever road we take, I am sure there is going to be disgruntlement in the community, but this is something that this board is wrestling with tonight.”
Boyette noted that the N.C. General Assembly excused school systems affected by the hurricanes from the requirement of making up those days.
“The time has already been forgiven by the state,” said Superintendent Lane Mills.
Boyette said school employees would still be paid for the four days.
Fitch said Wilson County was blessed that it only had a handful of days to make up, unlike other school systems that had 20, 24 or 26 days lost in the storms.
In a unanimous vote, the board directed the school administration to maintain the original calendar and look later in the school year to make up any lost instructional hours if needed.