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5 things to know about Georgia’s back-to-school start-date debate

Members of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta  greet students as they arrive for the first day of school at Hamilton E. Holmes Elementary in East Point on Aug. 6.      BOB ANDRES  /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Members of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta greet students as they arrive for the first day of school at Hamilton E. Holmes Elementary in East Point on Aug. 6. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

The weather is only just turning crisp in metro Atlanta, but by now many students have been in school for 2½ months.

As the leaves change and the days cool, a group of state senators already is thinking about summer break — and whether it’s too short.

A Senate study committee created to review the school calendar met this past week for the first time. They want to know if the state should mandate a back-to-school start date, bringing uniformity to a hodgepodge of different dates — spanning July, August and September  — currently chosen by school districts.

Their work has rekindled an old fight: When should school begin? 

Here are five things you need to know about Georgia’s school start-date debate:

1. Everyone has an opinion

Travel industry officials, several of whom were appointed to this committee, love the idea of starting school later. It gives families more time to take one last summer vacation and allows high school students to fill needed jobs at resorts and tourist attractions. Some parents also have memories of long summers and oppose starting school in July or early August.

School boards, however, want to protect their ability to make decisions about when to start school. Groups including the Georgia PTA have said the state is too diverse to set one Georgia-wide calendar. Also, there are concerns about squeezing in state testing and allowing time for makeup weather days should the start date be pushed back too far.

2. Start dates vary widely around the state

Georgia’s school start dates are all over the calendar. Fifteen school districts began school in July this year. The earliest two started classes July 26. Most metro Atlanta districts went back to school the first week in August, a popular choice for districts around the state. Only Webster County and Murray County school districts started school after Labor Day this year.

3. APS will start later

Atlanta Public Schools already moved its first day back to the second Monday in August. The 52,000-student district began school on Aug. 1 this year and last. But the school board recently approved moving the date back in upcoming years after surveying parents, employees and others. Next year, Atlanta students will go back to school Aug. 12.

4. Other rules for other states

Most states allow individual school districts to decide when school should begin. Only about a dozen states have a mandated start-date, according to the Education Commission of the States. Of those that do, several pin the date to Labor Day, considered the unofficial end of summer by many.

5. Committee timeline 

The state Senate committee must finish its work by Dec. 1. The group only has a month and a half to wrap up its evaluation. It plans to meet several more times before then, but has yet to schedule a second meeting.