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Schools frozen out of 'emergency days'

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

With schools closed again Thursday in Clayton and Henry counties, local school systems have run out of the allotment of free "emergency" off days that the state allows school districts to take without having to make up for missed time in the classroom.

Georgia Department of Education Spokesman Matt Cardoza said State Board of Education policy 160-5-1-.02 allows school districts to close for four days during the school year because of emergencies, without being required to make up the time.

Schools must be closed because of an "emergency, disaster, act of God, civil disturbance, or shortage of vital or critical material, supplies or fuel," according to the policy.

"The state allows four emergency days," said Cardoza, in a written statement. "After that, they would have to request a waiver, unless they adjusted the rest of their calendar to meet the equivalent number of days remaining."

Clayton County Public Schools and Henry County Schools announced late Wednesday afternoon, they would be closed today.

Today is the fourth consecutive day each school system has been closed, because of the winter storm that blew through the area Sunday and Monday. If the two school systems have to close for any additional days this year, students will likely have to make up the missed time, perhaps, this spring.

Options for making up missed school days could include tacking days onto the end of the school year, or taking days out of vacation periods this semester, such as a two-day winter break Clayton Schools are scheduled to take in February.

Clayton Schools Spokesman Charles White said no decisions have yet been made by school officials about how to handle make-up days, if they are required. At this point, district leaders are focusing on whether school facilities are secure, and students, faculty and staff members can safely get to, and from, their schools and district offices.

"Once we have resumed normal operations, our teaching and learning staff may look into that issue," White said. "But, as it stands right now, we are just going to try to get our kids back in school."

Henry County Schools' Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Rodney Bowler said his district will have to take a similar approach to the issue. "We have to wait and see the end results of this particular weather event, so that we can make an informed decision that would be in the best interest of the students of Henry County Schools," he said.

Cardoza pointed out that some school districts, Clayton County's included, shortened their 2010-2011 school year to accommodate budget cuts, and therefore, "they have some days to work with."

In the case of Clayton, the school year was shortened by five days. Those days have since been given back to teachers, using federal jobs bill money, on the condition that teachers use the days for professional development.

Henry County Schools started the 2010-2011 school year with a reduced school calendar, consisting of 177 days for instruction, compared to the normal 180-day calendar. Bowler said the calendar was reduced as a part of adjustments made to suit the district's budgetary limitations.

-- Staff writer Johnny Jackson contributed to this report.