By Steve Woodward

What a swell honeymoon it was. It’s over.

The days of RC Cola and Moon Pies are fading from memory. During its May 8, 2023, public session, the Moore County Board of Education took on a lengthy agenda. By night’s end, whether owed to fatigue or fear, the board seated last December to pursue reform and transparency had lost its way.

It was difficult to watch because we’ve seen this movie in the past and know how it ends.

The very same board, chair Robert Levy, vice chair David Hensley et al (minus a lone dissenting voter who represents the last gasps of the Robert Grimesey regime), that boldly authored and enshrined as policy a Parent’s Bill of Rights a few weeks ago, went completely wobbly on students’ rights.

Say it ain’t so. At issue is when the school year begins. It is common knowledge that the academic calendar established by the state Board of Education in compliance with state law does not serve the best interests of public education — specifically, students.

The school year starts deep into August (August 28 in 2023-24), which has one very intended consequence — it keeps vacation cottages and condos on the beaches and in the mountains churning revenue until summer’s end. State lawmakers have always protected the travel and tourism industry, even at the expense of education.

By bowing to said industry, lawmakers penalize children by sending them off to their annual December Christmas break having not completed the semester, including term papers and exams. Thus, the cloud of this unfinished business intrudes on kids, teachers and parents, compromising what the lyricist called “the most wonderful time of the year.”

This absurdity could easily have been deep sixed by our board of education on May 8. A proposed “early start” calendar would move the opening date of the 2024-25 school year to August 7. This would facilitate ending the first semester before the Christmas break, with school resuming January 7. Lastly, the school year would end on May 23, in time for Memorial Day weekend, leaving many weeks for surf, sand and majestic mountains.

The biggest no-brainer since parents’ rights and book reports were restored. Or so it appeared.

Superintendent Tim Locklair’s hands presumably were tied. He recommended keeping the traditional (flawed) calendar intact, citing state law. But laws are made to be challenged, especially those established to sustain cronyism. Vice chair Hensley, never one to back down from a challenge, urged fellow board members to remember their mission, and why they were overwhelmingly elected.

“Fiduciary responsibility” requires the board to act boldly, he said. Subjecting kids to post-Christmas final exams denies them a well deserved mental health break and, in some cases, surely impacts exam performance. (How many kids hunker down studying for exams on break? Zero?)

And there is another consideration that four members of the board ultimately rejected. Lee County (N.C) schools altered its academic calendar and has yet to face a legal challenge. This was confirmed in real time by Moore County board attorney Richard Schwartz.

“The current calendar is untenable,” Hensley said. It exists because of “special interests in Raleigh and only special interests. It is 100% driven by the travel and tourism industry.

“If the travel and tourism industry wants to sue us, I guess we’ll see them in court.”

Citing his inclination to “model obedience to the law,” chair Levy would not be convinced that the board faced yet another opportunity to defy the status quo

Levy was joined by board members Ken Benway, Stacey Caldwell and Shannon Davis as “yes” votes. Yes to a calendar that compromises the educational outcomes of county students.

Hensley, Pauline Bruno and Philip Holmes voted “no”. Actually, hell no.

Later, Bruno expressed disappointment in her fellow members. “I am on this board to make a change. I think we showed a lack of courage tonight.”

If you conclude that this vote falls short of redlining the courage meter, be aware that the tide turned even more toward status quo-clinging on a matter before the board involving a retired school security officer and “his” trusty firearm. We hope chair Levy wore steel-toed shoes for this egregious vote.

More in my next installment.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: