Benching Parents, Year-Round

, Kristen Blair, Leave a comment

Should parents be key players
in year-round school assignment decisions? An ill-conceived appellate court decision this week says they

On Tuesday, the North Carolina Court of
Appeals ruled that the Wake County Public School System does
not need to obtain parents’ permission before moving kids to
year-round schools. School officials now have carte blanche to
override parental wishes if they feel it’s in the best
interests of the school system. The unanimous decision from a
three-judge appellate panel reverses a May 2007 ruling by Wake
County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. that blocked
school leaders from mandating year-round student assignments
without parental consent.

This week’s court ruling
clearly marginalizes parents. It also ignores “express and
clear statutory language,” according to the Locke Foundation’s
legal analyst, Daren Bakst. North Carolina statute specifies that “there shall be
operated in every local school administrative unit a uniform
school term of nine months.” Based on the appellate court’s
interpretation of the North Carolina Constitution, however,
students do not have a “right to a uniform nine-month

Wake County students whose families want to opt
out of year-round schooling will get to attend traditional
schools next year. But school board member Patti Head, quoted
in yesterday’s News and Observer, cautioned this is
temporary, saying, “We need to make it clear this is a
one-year assignment.” In 2009-10, these students will be
assigned to year-round schools. For kids new to the school
system, there’s no grace period – next year, they must go
wherever the school system bids them go.

Why do Wake’s
school leaders remain intent on forcing students into
year-round schooling? Officials say the multi-track,
year-round system – in which one group of students is always
on break – enables them to accommodate more pupils and respond
to burgeoning enrollments. But while year-round schools may be
one way to deal with student growth, they should not be
foisted on parents and should instead be schools of

Wake’s school system also indicates year-round
schools help students retain academic material: “Another
advantage of the year-round schedule is lessening the amount
of learning loss that occurs after a long summer break.”
According to 2007 research from Ohio State University, though,
summer learning loss isn’t really the issue. This study found
that while year-round students did learn more during the
summer than students on a traditional schedule, year-round
pupils actually learned less during the remainder of
the year. In short, year-round schools provided no net
achievement gains for students.

What about families?
Mandatory year-round assignments disenfranchise parents.
Obviously, year-round schooling works well for many of the
families who choose it, but it’s not a suitable
schooling arrangement for every child. Radically altering a
student’s school schedule has far-reaching implications for
parents – affecting child care arrangements, family vacation
schedules, even transportation. And what about the logistical
nightmare these assignments create for families whose children
are on opposing schedules?

Unfortunately, parental
priorities are all too often subordinated to system goals.
Just this past February, the school board voted to move 6,464
students. At least 20 percent of the reassignments were made not because of
growing enrollments, but because school leaders wanted to
diversify schools economically.

Some parents have had
it with constant reassignments. This winter, scores of them
marched in protest. In Cary, parents suggested the town secede
from Wake’s district. What will parents do now? Some will flee
the system, moving to a more responsive school district.
Others will shift children into private or home schools. And
the legal wrangling may yet continue. The parent group Wake CARES, the plaintiff in the year-round
school case, has not decided whether to appeal.

In the
end, though, this week’s court ruling is a victory for the
system, not the students. That is short-sighted indeed.
Instead of marginalizing parents and students, we ought to
empower them through school choice. In decisions affecting a
child’s education, parents should never be benched – by the
courts or by school boards.”

Kristin Blair is a fellow at the North Carolina Education Alliance This article originally appeared in The K-12 Update that she assembles for the NCEA.