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The State's Role in School Closures

March 24, 2014
A car covered in snow driving on icey roads

With the recent winter weather causing the closure of many of Georgia’s schools for multiple days, questions have come up about how the decision is made to close schools and how they make up those days missed.

It’s important to know that the state does not make the call to close schools. Each local school district makes that decision based on conditions within their community. Every district has a different set of circumstances to take into account when deciding how winter weather will impact the school day. Because of that, it is unfeasible for the state to be in the business of telling districts when they should close.

One of the biggest issues that came out of the winter weather closings was the issue of making up lost school days. Many school districts throughout the state had to close due to inclement weather the weeks of Jan. 27-31 and Feb. 10-14.

State law requires that students are in school 180 days or its equivalent. Each year, school districts are given four “emergency days” they can use for a variety of purposes. Many districts have been building those days into their calendars already because of financial hardships, so when winter weather strikes and causes many school-day closures, the state does have the ability to give districts some flexibility.   

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.

At the February board meeting, I chose to submit a resolution to the board that would allow local school districts the flexibility to determine if school days missed due to inclement weather will be made up. That resolution was approved unanimously by the board, which I appreciate. While every single day of instruction is important, some of our districts have missed so many school days that it would be extremely difficult for them to make up all of the days or adjust their calendars without flexibility from the state.

This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it was the right one because each district has a unique set of challenges with regard to restoring the days missed. I am happy to report that most districts are making up some of those days. Because every district has its own calendar and because every district has made adjustments to its calendar based on the reduction of general operating funds from the state, we also felt it necessary to give school districts across the state the flexibility to address the missed days as it makes best sense to their unique set of circumstances.

Department of Education Superintendent John Barge

About the Author

Dr. John Barge has spent his career as an educator. Before his election to office in 2010 as Georgia's State School Superintendent, Superintendent Barge worked as a teacher, principal, district-level curriculum director and state Director of Career, Technical and Agricultural Education. He was recognized in 1996 as a STAR teacher, an honor bestowed on a teacher by the STAR student.

Superintendent Barge earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Georgia and completed his undergraduate studies at Berry College in Rome, GA, the city he and his wife of 21 years still call home. As a life-long educator who understands the impact a quality education can have on the life of a child as well as our state's economy, Superintendent Barge embraces a simple vision for education in Georgia: “Making Education Work for All Georgians.”

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