The Bulloch County Schools will add two class days, Nov. 25 and 26, to make up for the two days cancelled during the area’s near miss by Hurricane Dorian, Superintendent Charles Wilson has decided.
Meanwhile, families who need to submit a 2019-20 application for free or reduced-price school lunches have a few more days to do so, but the deadline is extended only to Tuesday, Sept. 17.
Since Sept. 2 was Labor Day and Sept. 3 was a scheduled student-free workday for teachers, the cancellation of classes on Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 4-5, left students with only Friday as a school day last week.
Georgia Southern University, East Georgia State College’s Statesboro campus and Ogeechee Technical College also closed that Wednesday and Thursday, and Gov. Brian Kemp added Bulloch to the counties covered by his emergency declaration. Still, after the deadly storm spared the region, Wilson sounded wary of second-guessers when he acknowledged the cancellations and announced the makeup days.
"It is never without serious deliberation that I make the decision to close school, but we also have to keep in mind that we cannot take unnecessary risks with the safety of our students,” he said. “With the information that we had on Tuesday and Wednesday it was the prudent and responsible thing to do.… But, this does mean that we need to make up the two days that were lost and those days are built into our board-approved school calendar. Monday, November 25, and Tuesday, November, 26, will be our school make-up days.”
The quotes from Wilson were emailed by Hayley Greene, the school system’s public relations and marketing specialist.
Nov. 25 and 26 are the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 28 this year. Previously, students and school employees would have had the entire week, Nov. 25-29, as holidays. But Nov. 25 and 26 had been designated as potential make-up days since the current school year, 2019-20, calendar was approved by the Board of Education back in January 2018.
“I realize that we have foregone make-up days in the past, but it was with concerted and intentional effort that we included predetermined school make-up days in this year's school calendar, from both a values perspective (instructional days matter) and from a communication perspective (letting people know ahead of time),” Wilson said in the comments provided Tuesday.
The current calendar also provides two more potential make-up days, April 6 and 7, 2020, but so far nothing has happened to trigger their use. They are also at the beginning of an otherwise full week of holidays, April 6-10, so that two potential makeup days occur in a break week near the end of each semester.
Wilson and the board did not order any make-up days in 2017-18, when five class days were missed for Tropical Storm Irma in September and some January snow, and that wasn’t counting a solar eclipse day when school was optional.
But the school system officials and calendar committee began building in potential makeup days with last school year’s calendar. They still weren’t used after some days lost to Hurricane Michael.
Greene, on the phone Tuesday, observed that the passage of hurricanes on or near the Georgia coast seems to have become “a pattern” the past few years.
Shown in calendar
“So it’s becoming like the norm that we have two or three storms a year that potentially close us, and so (Superintendent Wilson) and the board had talked about that after the last year of us missing so many days,” Greene said. “We communicate them way ahead of time, we let employees and parents know that these are the days, and if we’re going to build them into our calendar, we need to use them.”
The current calendar, with potential make-up days noted, was communicated to parents and employees through the school system’s website, social media, the student handbook, the Bulloch County Guide, the Herald’s Back-to-School Guide and other media placements, she said.
“That was to make them aware so they could plan their schedules accordingly, because parents take vacations or have leave at different times,” Greene said.
With a Strategic Waivers School System, Bulloch County is not bound to the traditional requirement of 180 class days. Almost all Georgia public school districts have now designated themselves as either “Strategic Waivers” or “Charter” systems and have leeway from certain state requirements as part of school improvement strategies.
In fact, the calendar for the current school year from the first has contained 177 class days.
But teachers have 190-day contracts and would be paid the same with or without the make-up days, Greene noted.
Lunch app deadline
The extension for free and reduced-price meal applications was also prompted by the two-day closing for Hurricane Dorian.
The deadline would have been this Friday but has been delayed until Tuesday.
Through that day, students who were approved on the basis of applications submitted last year will continue to receive free or reduced-price lunches.
However, the National School Lunch Program requires that families complete a new application each school year, Greene noted in a press release. The school district distributed an application to all families at the beginning of this school year.
Applications in English and Spanish are available from school offices or the district's School Food Services office.
Because the Bulloch County Schools make free breakfasts available to all students, the applications are for assistance with lunch costs only. Also, since Langston Chapel Elementary School and Langston Chapel Middle School qualified for free lunches for all of their students this year, applications are not needed at those two schools.
In the other schools lunches are free for income-eligible families and cost 40 cents for children who qualify for reduced meals. The full price of a student lunch is $2.25 in the elementary schools and $2.50 in the middle and high schools.