A Georgia Senate committee concluded its evaluation of public school calendars last week, recommending a number of different changes to state laws that would place “guardrails” on each district’s ability to set school year start and end dates.
According to the final report of the committee on Dec. 27, members are recommending a required start date no earlier than seven to 10 days before Labor Day and an end date around June 1.
“The committee recognizes that local education leaders want local control and flexibility … However it can’t be ignored that widely varying school start dates and volatile break schedules often come at cost to our students, families and communities,” the report states.
Other recommendations in the report include limiting “sporadic intermediate breaks throughout the year,” evaluating testing dates, requiring school systems to survey communities about school calendars and coordinating the start dates to “coincide more with the University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia.”
The report also lists several different findings by the committee, stating that “shortened summer vacation and inconsistent school start dates have a negative impact on Georgia’s youth development by restricting access to summer programs and employment” and a “significant detrimental impact, particularly on the tourism and hospitality industry.”
The Senate Study Committee on Evaluating the School Year Calendar of Georgia Public Schools was announced in early September and featured 11 members from the fields of government, tourism, travel, state economics and education, led by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), the committee’s chair.
Over the past months, the system has come out in strong opposition of any recommendation that would limit a district's ability and flexibility, making that flexibility part of their 2019 legislative priorities at a board meeting in September.
In a statement to the Forsyth County News, Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden said that they believe lawmakers and local districts should work together to create a school calendar that “best meets the educational needs of the students that are served.”
“In Forsyth County Schools, we do just that, and have great community support for our balanced school calendar,” he said. “As superintendent, I believe this should be an educational decision, not an economic one.”
After the recommendation, other local school officials, like District 2 Board of Education Representative Kristin Morrissey, have also questioned the amount that educators were represented during the research process, saying that they would have wanted to see more parents, teachers and students involved in the discussion.
“If you look at the committee makeup, which it was 10 members, there was one person that was directly from the department of education,” Morrissey said. “I would have liked to seen more actual teachers and more so, what about the students? Why are we not talking to the people that are actually our customers? What are their feelings on it?
“So, I just feel like they could have done a better job representing the community as a whole, including teachers and students.”
In 2018, the Forsyth County Board of Education approved its calendars for the upcoming 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, the first time that it has approved a calendar more than one year ahead of time.
According to school officials, the system received more than 3,000 responses from the community, with mostly positive reactions to the dates. About 54 percent of parents and 71 percent of teachers approved the calendars, while 43 percent of parents and 28 percent of teachers requested a later start date.
Under the recommendations that have been put forth by the subcommittee, future calendars could face some serious changes, as many of the so-called “sporadic intermediate breaks” are eliminated to balance the 180-day school year required in Georgia.
Morrissey said that by eliminating the various breaks that are spread throughout the year, breaks and professional development, they could be negatively impacting students by giving them less time to relax and recover while giving teachers and school staff less time to plan and collaborate.
“If we had to squeeze the calendar down and lose days, we might have to lose parent-teacher conferences. Those are crucial,” she said. “We would lose professional development days, which is, again, crucial to analyzing the data from the test for the (Georgia) Milestones.”
Even then, she said there’s no guarantee that students won’t take time off anyway if school holidays like fall and spring break are eliminated or shortened.
“Students would still not come. In our community, people leave, they go, it's just the nature of our community,” she said. “The work would still have to be taught. Some students might be in school, some students might not, and it puts more pressure on the teachers to make up the work.”