Georgia schools debate: Start school in August or September?
In most Georgia schools, the school year starts much earlier than in years past. Most area students now resume classes in early August.
However, In northwest Georgia, there are two school districts with widely differing views on the issue.
The debate renews each year as summer winds down. When should students return to school?
In Murray County, Georgia, the answer is, the day after Labor Day. That was once considered the traditional beginning of a new school year.
However, like many school districts, Murray County eventually moved the start date to August. Then, during the peak of the 2009 recession, they moved back to September, primarily for financial reasons. School officials say that in transportation and utilities alone, the school district saved in excess of two hundred thousand dollars a year.
Murray is now among a handful of Georgia school districts with the later start. But if some Georgia legislators get their way, the day after Labor Day would be a statewide start date. That would be a big change for Walker County, which started school this year on August 2nd. Walker administrators say most teachers, parents, and students are pleased with the early start date. Their calendar includes multiple-day breaks in the fall, at Thanksgiving, in February, and in the spring, plus a long Christmas holiday. They're able to end the first semester at the Christmas break, with 90 days of class time before Christmas, and 90 days starting in January.
That is not the case in Murray County, where the first semester ends in mid-January. But some teachers and parents say the longer summer vacation, and a later start date results in fewer interruptions during the school year, which provides a better environment for teaching and learning.
Murray County students also have a longer school day. The switch to a later start date, with fewer days in class, required an additional 30 minutes each day. Surprisingly, county officials say no one is complaining about that. Teachers say the extra time allows them to do more rigorous activities and small group interventions.
Some observers say there's little chance the state legislature would approve a statewide start date, citing most counties' desire for local control. Although it would provide advantages like having uniform testing dates, many state leaders prefer to let school districts decide for themselves. Murray County is perfectly happy starting late, and in Walker, administrators say they would prefer to keep things as they are, but they can make adjustments if needed.
A Georgia State Senate committee is researching the issue and will issue a report in early December.