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Big changes for metro Atlanta schools, opening soon

More than 800,000 students will return to schools in metro Atlanta by early August, and they and their parents will see some changes, as will anyone who uses the roadways or pays taxes.

Seventeen school districts in the metro area will be open by Aug. 8, with most of them starting the week before that.

>>See when school districts reopen

New laws will change testing, discipline, funding and what’s taught.

For the first time, for instance, students starting in kindergarten will learn about sexual abuse and how to report it. Senate Bill 401, nicknamed “Erin’s law” after the survivor who lobbied other states to adopt the same requirement, mandates annual sex abuse awareness training through ninth grade. It also requires career-oriented counseling by middle school.

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Senate Bill 362 lets school districts experiment with alternatives to the state’s standardized tests. Several metro Atlanta districts, including Fulton and Gwinnett counties, want to participate. The CONNECT Act expands job training in high schools. Other legislation makes it harder to expel students in pre-K through third grade.

Drivers are affected, too.

School bus officials worry that a dozen new words in the state code will nullify the requirement to stop for loading and unloading school buses in some situations. At the least, said officials from 102 counties in a letter to the governor,  House Bill 978 will sow confusion that could endanger children.

That same legislation also takes aim at speeders, for the first time allowing automated camera enforcement. It applies only to school zones, and as of early July no schools had applied to the state for authority to install them.

Private and charter schools are affected, too, due to changes in school funding.

House Bill 217 increases the annual $58 million cap on tax credits for private school tuition to $100 million. It is the bill that has bedeviled Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s gubernatorial aspirations since he was secretly recorded saying it was “bad” but he backed it anyway.

House Bill 787 increases funding for state-authorized charter schools. The bill’s passage led Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, to resign as chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee. It was Tippins’ nephew, former gubernatorial candidate Clay Tippins, who secretly recorded Cagle. On the recording, Cagle was asked about his role with HB 787 and he responded by saying he needed HB 217 to pass for his election campaign.

House Bill 853 lets parents of distressed students use the state funding allocated to public schools for their child to pay for psychiatric residential treatment.

Traditional public schools will also see more money. For the first time in years, the state budget fulfills the full funding requirement under a decades-old formula; school districts have been responding with teacher raises.

Public schools should also benefit from a revision to car title taxes in House Bill 329.

Here’s when school districts start back:

  • July 30: Henry and Rockdale counties.
  • Aug. 1: Atlanta and Decatur, and Cherokee, Cobb and Newton counties.
  • Aug. 2: Buford, Marietta and Forsyth County.
  • Aug. 3: Coweta County.
  • Aug. 6: Clayton, DeKalb, Fayette, Fulton and Gwinnett counties.
  • Aug. 8: Douglas County.

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