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Senate committee recommends later school start date
Findings won’t affect Dawson County Schools in 2019-20
DCN Generic school bus

The Senate Study Committee on Evaluating the School Year Calendar of Georgia Public Schools concluded its evaluation and published its recommendations at the end of December.

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.

Other recommendations in the report include 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.”

“This Committee has attempted to look at the benefits of a more unified calendar statewide, balanced with the positive impact gained from local control, while placing a priority on student well-being,” the report states. “Through its investigation, this Committee found no evidence to suggest that a more congruent school calendar or a later start date to the school year statewide could have a negative impact on education.”

The committee was announced in early September and featured 11 members from the fields of education, government, tourism, travel and state economics to study the effects of school start dates on education as well as the tourism and hospitality industry. It was chaired by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega).

But the recent findings won’t be affecting Dawson County Schools for 2019-20. The local school board approved its school calendar Dec. 10 and followed several of the committee’s recommendations unintentionally.

Based on community feedback through electronic feedback format ThoughtExchange, participants in the survey expressed their thoughts on improving the school calendar.

“We went through a process this year and asked for community input as we developed the school calendar for 2019-20,” said Superintendent Damon Gibbs. “We used that feedback to make changes from previous years.”

Approximately 850 participants, mainly parents and school staff members, expressed support of the readjustment of mid-year breaks.

A weeklong fall break in September was nixed for a three-day break, with the extra days being supplemented for a three-day break in February. The number of early release days was also reduced from eight to three, keeping in mind the difficulty of finding childcare for the shortened days.

Though the school start date still remains Aug. 2 in the 2019-20 calendar, the committee’s recommendations could influence how Dawson County Schools builds the 2020-21 calendar.

Dawson County currently uses what Gibbs describes as a “balanced calendar,” with students completing the first semester prior to the Christmas break, similar to post-secondary education. Then during the mid-year breaks, several days are utilized for remediation.

“I believe the school calendar should focus on academic outcomes and should remain under the control of the local school boards,” Gibbs said.

“The Committee recognizes that local education leaders want local control and flexibility, which is an important consideration,” the report states. “However, it can’t be ignored that widely varying school start dates and volatile break schedules often come at a cost to our students, families, and communities.”

In Georgia the state board defines a school year as ‘a minimum of 180 school days or its equivalent’ however there is nothing specifying start or end dates.

In its findings, the committee compared school calendars from other states, both states immediately surrounding Georgia as well as states in other regions of the country, to determine if there was a standard start date in other areas.

It found that Michigan and Minnesota start no earlier than Labor Day while other states like Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas and South Carolina start anywhere between the second to fourth week in August. Wisconsin and Iowa start no earlier than Sept. 1 while Virginia starts after Labor Day unless a waiver is granted.

Based on the incongruent start dates in Georgia, the committee has recommended “guardrails” be instituted around school start dates that preserve local control while providing consistency for students and parents.

Guardrails would be similar in nature to existing federal and state mandated windows and aim to provide a more congruent calendar statewide that would include longer summer breaks with less sporadic intermediate breaks throughout the year.

Creating a more congruent school calendar across the state would allow better access to summer experiences such as vacations, internships and employment as well as education opportunities and assistance programs, the committee said. It would also promote the ease of transferability between school systems.

The committee also said the short summer breaks and sporadic school year breaks have a negative impact on youth development as it restricts access to summer programs, makes it hard on families in regards to childcare and places a “detrimental impact” on the tourism and hospitality industry.

The tourism and hospitality industry is Georgia’s fifth largest employer and accounts for an economic impact of more than $60 billion per year and generates more than $3 billion in tax revenues for state and local communities.

The committee found that inconsistent school calendars hindered the industry’s ability to thrive, with employers building schedules around their student employees’ school calendars in some instances or students losing valuable employment opportunities and training because of their school calendars.

“The Committee finds that an extended summer would directly impact our business economy, but more importantly, allow for the vocational growth of our students and workforce in one of Georgia’s leading industries,” the report concludes.

The full report can be viewed here.