The Rockdale County School Board approved using the Feb. 14-18 winter break as instructional days to make up for five snow days from last week and making Feb. 21 a holiday, despite impassioned public comments opposing the change.
The calendar change was approved in a 5-2 vote, with Brad Smith and newly sworn member Jim McBrayer voting against.
Superintendent Sam King said the cabinet had looked at options and felt this was the best option for educating students. “We must first and foremost consider the educational welfare of our students and the best interests of the school system as a whole and not simply individual segments.”
He said staff and faculty who already had trips planned and money invested would be able to go on those trips.
“Those individuals would not be penalized. We would work with each individual case with the intent of accommodating accordingly,” he said. “So if you invested money, you won’t lose that money.”
If students miss school because of preplanned family vacations, said King, they would be allowed to make up work.
Despite students and faculty that might be absent, King said he felt the vast majority would be present.
“There is no easy solution,” said Chief Academic Officer Rich Autry. With a block schedule and only 50 days left until the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) and 39 days until the Georgia High School Graduation Test, other options, such as adding days on to the end of the year or taking teacher work days were “not viable for us.” He pointed out one of the board’s main goals for the year was to maintain a full regular calendar.
McBrayer proposed tabling the change for a week and voting next week in a special called meeting. “I feel like so many people just found out about the plans today,” he said. The motion did not pass.
Board member Darlene Hotchkiss pointed out the information and options available would be the same a week later and likened tabling the vote to pulling a band aid off slowly versus quickly.
Nine people, including two high school students, came to the podium to voice their opposition to the proposed calendar change.
Kim Mathis, an RCPS teacher said, “We often hear about the importance about being transparent and being one community dedicated to the job at hand.
“We understand relationships are keys to success. But what happens when an integral part of that relationship feels like decisions are being made and we weren’t really considered?”
Another RCPS teacher, Krista Dugas, described vacation plans that she and her husband had rescheduled to February from summer because of his stroke.
“If we don’t take it, we’re out $5,000,” she said. “You can’t cancel plane trips anymore.”
Two members of church communities also spoke of lost trip fees – Rockdale Baptist Church youth pastor Mark Walker and Michael Sarvis, representing Smyrna Presbyterian, Ebenezer United Methodist, and Conyers First United Methodist.
Sardis described a joint youth winter retreat that had been planned for that week. The contracted cost for the retreat was around $15,000 to $20,000 and the minimum penalty for breaking the contract would be at least $5,000, he said.
Walker said his church will lose about $1,250 to $2,000 from a planned youth trip.
“We are constantly having to work around the school calendar,” he said. “When you’re only three weeks out, it’s very hard to adjust.”
Heritage sophomore David Rosemon spoke of losing $50 for a ski trip deposit. “I feel it seemed a decision had already been made,” he said. “I feel at least there should be other people’s input. It is a community; it is a democracy.”
Rockdale Magnet School sophomore Briana Cowles moved the audience to tears as she spoke of the time she would lose to spend with her father before he deployed to Afghanistan for more than a year. “This break is the last chance to spend time together,” she said.
(Jan. 20, 8:46 p.m.) After impassioned public comments on the effects of revising the school calendar to use the winter break to make up last week's snow days,such as costs from unrefundable vacation plans, and much discussion by the board, the school board approved the change in a 5 to 2 vote, with board members Brad Smith and Jim McBrayer voting against.
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