Following the ruling by Superior Court Judge Howard Manning last week that the Wake County Board of Education cannot require students to attend year-round schools, the board said it would offer a place in a traditional-calendar school to each of the 30,500 students now involuntarily assigned to a year-round school for 2007-08. However, it also said it cannot tell specific students in advance which traditional-calendar school they’ll end up in if they accept.

Wake CARES, the parents’ group that was the lead plaintiff, said that the board’s response fell short of Manning’s order, and that all students should know their traditional-calendar school assignment before being asked whether they’d prefer a year-round or modified-calendar school.

Manning will now decide whether the board’s response met his order; the school board plans to appeal.

What was Manning’s basis?

The state constitution requires a uniform system of free public schools for “at least nine months in every year.” State law specifies a nine-month term, with 180 days and 1,000 hours of instruction, but doesn’t set dates. However, a 2004 law adds that, “except for year-round schools,” schools shouldn’t open before Aug. 25 or close after June 10. That law says further that the two dates don’t apply to any schools that were operating on a “modified calendar” as of the 2003-04 school year.

Manning read the phrase “except for year-round schools” to mean only supplemental instruction that a student could take or skip, not year-round schools to which students had been involuntarily assigned. Otherwise, he found, the General Assembly clearly meant to limit the “normal” school term to any nine-month period between Aug. 25 and June 10.

Will it cause chaos this year?

Probably not, unless Manning insists that all 30,500 students are given a new assignment in a traditional-calendar school immediately, as Wake CARES wants. If he lets the school board’s new plan go ahead, most have already reconciled themselves to a year-round school starting in July. Only a few thousand took the board’s offer to apply for seats in traditional-calendar schools back in February, and everyone who did apply got one.

What about next year?

Next year’s another story. Manning’s order says the school board can’t assign students to year-round schools, as it did this year. But if it assigns every student to a traditional-calendar school, look outbecause the board’s plan for coping with an expected enrollment surge of 65,000 new students by 2015 calls for every new elementary and middle school to be mandatory year-round.