Schools get flexibility in schedule for weather

Published 9:32 pm Tuesday, February 25, 2014

According to Matt Cardoza, director of communications with the Georgia Department of Education, The Georgia State Board of Education on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 passed a resolution recommended by State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge, to give school districts flexibility regarding the inclement weather experienced in much of the state in January and February 2014 as it relates to the number of school days required. It gives flexibility to school districts to decide whether or not to make up school days when they were closed due to inclement weather or an otherwise declared emergency.
State Board of Education Rule 160-5-1-.02 mandates that all public elementary and secondary schools in Georgia that receive state aid shall provide students with access to no less than 180 school days, or the equivalent, of education each fiscal year.
The Board acknowledges that some school districts may be unable to recoup missed instructional time by extending the school year or school day; therefore the recently passed weather and school days resolution: State law – O.C.G.A. § 20-2-168(c)(2) – authorizes the State Board of Education to empower local boards of education to depart from the strict interpretation of the terms “school year” and “school day,” when the Governor proclaims a state of emergency or when there is an emergency that causes the continued operation of public schools to be impractical or impossible. Many school districts throughout the state had to close due to inclement weather the weeks of January 27-31 and February 10-14.
“The approval of this resolution will allow local school districts the flexibility to determine if school days missed due to inclement weather will be made up,” said Superintendent Barge. “Each district has a unique set of challenges with regard to restoring the days missed so we wanted to ensure they had the means to do whatever was best for them.”
The resolution further states that as it relates to the emergency and the state of emergency declaration, that the State Board of Education is authorizing any local board of education that closed schools on some or all of the days Jan. 28-31, 2014 or on some or all of the days Feb. 10-14, 2014 due to inclement weather to depart from O.C.G.A. 20-2-168©(1) and State Board of Education Rule 160-5-1-.02 School Day and School Year for Students and Employees if it submits to the Georgia Department of Education an amended school calendar that was approved by the local board of education.
Dr. Fred Rayfield, superintendent of Decatur County Schools, indicated earlier this week that while our school district only experienced one lost day of school due to the inclement weather, it was one of the days declared an emergency. He does plan to recommend to the local board of education that we take advantage of the state resolution. The matter will be brought before the next regular meeting of the local board on Thursday, Feb. 27 for consideration.

An additional resolution removes the class size requirements due to continued budget shortfalls for districts.
Local school districts continue to experience financial hardships. The results may mean that a local board of education will not be able to comply with class size maximum requirements. State law – O.C.G.A. § 20-2-244 (h) – authorizes the State Board of Education to allow local school systems to exceed regulatory class size maximums in the event of “financial exigency.”
The resolution adopted allows an exemption from class size maximum requirements for the 2014-2015 school year only. In addition, local school districts will be required to submit a local board resolution to the Georgia Department of Education if class size maximums will exceed the requirements in current statute and State Board Rule 160-5-1-.08 – Class Size. The local board resolution must be approved at a local board meeting. The purpose of the locally approved resolution is to ensure that all stakeholders are informed about the local school district’s decisions regarding increases in class sizes. Local boards of education must continue to meet all federal and state accountability requirements as well as all other requirements within programs that have specific class size stipulations.

“While we don’t like having to ask the board for a waiver of the class size rule, our districts need this flexibility right now so they can continue to operate school each day,” said Superintendent Barge. “If one or two students were to move into some of our schools it would put their classes over the maximum, causing them to hire another teacher that many districts can’t afford. Because a class would then have to be split up, the two classes may be so small that the district would not earn money for either of the teachers. That is just not something we can require of our districts right now with the continued financial hardships many of them are facing. It is important to remember that this is giving districts the flexibility to increase class size if they need to. There is certainly no mandate to increase class size.”

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As to the class size resolution, Rayfield explained, “We are already able to submit a waiver at the beginning of each school year and have been doing so for five years now. Nearly all of the school districts in the state of Georgia do so. However, what the newly passed resolution addresses is if a school district has a waiver in place and extra students move in during the school year. This gives the local district the flexibility to put in those incidental overages during the school year without having to hire a new teacher. We have several elementary schools right at the mark now, and this resolution doesn’t hold us accountable if extra students should move in.
We plan to take advantage of it if that situation should arise during the school year.”