Some midstate schools to make up some snow days as state eases rules

Staff and wire reportsFebruary 20, 2014 

ATLANTA -- Georgia’s state school board voted Thursday to ease the requirements for school districts to make up days lost because of abnormally bad weather.

Board members approved a measure allowing Georgia districts to forgo making up as many as nine days lost to the ice and snow.

Georgia schools are normally required to be open to students at least 180 days a year, although some districts receive special waivers to have a shorter school year.

Across Middle Georgia, some school systems plan to make up some missed days, while others don’t.

In Bibb County, interim Superintendent Steve Smith said Thursday that he plans to recommend to the school board that the system add two makeup days to the schedule. Bibb County has lost seven days to bad weather, but only five of them happened during the period when Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency.

Smith said he will recommend that March 17 -- originally planned as a furlough day -- be used as one makeup date. The second date will likely be made up by adding 30 minutes to the school day for a three-week period.

Smith said he’s worried that students won’t have enough time to prepare for important tests, including Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, End of Course Tests and Advance Placement exams.

“My major concern is a loss of instructional time for these tests,” he said. “This is lost time prior to the testing window.”

He said it wouldn’t help students to add school days to the end of the year because the end-of-year tests already will have been taken.

Smith said Bibb’s school calendar is 176 days -- four days shorter than usual -- so the school system could ill afford to lose any more time.

“I think it’s ironic we missed seven days,” Smith said. “I think if you go back 20, 25 years we probably haven’t missed seven days total over that time.”

He said he and other superintendents across Georgia are asking the state to push the CRCTs back a week because of the ice storms.

Beth McLaughlin, spokeswoman for the Houston County school system, said the system was pleased to have the flexibility on makeup days. Houston lost five days, and one of those would have needed to be made up, but now no days will be made up, she said.

Monroe County Superintendent Anthony Pack said he’s waiting to make his recommendation to see whether the CRCTs are delayed. The county also missed five days because of the storm.

In Jones County, Superintendent William Mathews said there’s no plan to add student days to the calender. Jones County students missed seven days because of the ice storm and because of a water issue in the county.

Mathews said the only parents he heard from were those who didn’t want to add any more days to the calendar.

He said there weren’t any dates that are ready-made makeup days. He said he doesn’t think adding time to the school day or scheduling classes during spring break would be effective.

As for the end-of-year tests, Mathews said the school system already provides tutoring sessions before and after the school day, and some school-day scheduling may be adjusted if the board thinks more preparation time is necessary.

“This winter was the worst in my career in terms of weather,” he said.

State education board Chairwoman Helen Rice told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that students will still be required to take all standardized tests, despite spending less time in the classroom.

“It’s not giving a waiver for accountability in instruction and testing,” she said.

The federal government allowed Georgia to come up with its own system for evaluating schools and districts. That system, called the College and Career Ready Performance Index, replaces the evaluation system of the No Child Left Behind education law, from which Georgia has received a waiver.

Georgia would need federal permission to make big changes to or to ignore the index.

Districts can give the test anytime from March 30 through May 2, and Thursday’s vote would not change that time frame, Rice said.

Board member Mike Royal said shortening the school calendars was the right thing to do because of the unusually bad weather.

“With these broad-reaching events we’ve had this year, I do think this is appropriate,” Royal said. “I think this is a good thing to do for schools.”

The Associated Press and Telegraph staff writers Phillip Ramati and Wayne Crenshaw contributed to this report.

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