Georgia schools given more freedom to respond to pandemic



The Georgia Board of Education has waived 18 state mandates in response to the extraordinary safety measures imposed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Brian Kemp has ordered all K-12 campuses closed to arrest the spread of the virus. Doors will not open until April 27, assuming his order is not extended.

Schools are trying to minimize disruption through remote learning, either using the internet or paper packets.

>>How are you and your school handling this extended closure? Are classes online or on paper? Are teachers using video conferences? What's it like being your child's teacher? Let us know at

Among the waivers is one intended to help them pay for the technology and other costs required by the changes; the state board waived an expenditure controls law.

The law restricts how schools can spend state dollars. Relaxing it would allow them to spend money that would have paid for things like air conditioning or printers on new costs instead, such as video conferencing.

Among the other waivers, are one that would release schools from the 180-day attendance mandate, one that elimates the physical education requirement and one that would eliminate the use of test results in high school course grades (Georgia Milestones scores count for a fifth of those grades).

The board had full authority to waive some of the requirements but not all of them. Kemp may still need to authorize some changes, such as the relaxed expenditure controls and testing changes.

The governor, who can suspend laws under the temporary but sweeping emergency powers granted by the Georgia General Assembly this month, sent a supportive letter to State School Superintendent Richard Woods Thursday before the board's vote. It said his office would work closely with the state Attorney General's office to review the waivers and, where "appropriate," suspend the law.

Then, just after 5 p.m. Friday, Kemp signed an order suspending several laws related to the waivers: teacher evaluations, eighth graduation plans and the testing of home-schooled students will not be required for the duration of the emergency or until the end of the school year. (The order says those laws are suspended through July 31 yet also says the order expires at the end of the declared emergency, which currently extends through April 15.)

One key waiver was not among those approved Thursday though it appears to be coming: although the state board approved Woods’ request to skip the Milestones tests this spring by indefinitely delaying them, the state will still have to give them later unless the federal government waives the testing requirement itself.

Woods has applied to the U.S. Department of Education for such a waiver, and a message from the federal agency was encouraging. The March 20 email to the Georgia Department of Education said the state’s request appeared to meet the legal requirements “and, accordingly, we intend to issue a formal approval ... in the coming weeks.” It said Georgia could skip the tests in the meantime.

Here are the 18 waivers approved by the state school board:

• Awarding Units of Credit and Acceptance of Transfer Credits/Grades: O.C.G.A. §20-2- 159.3; O.C.G.A. §20-2-159.4 (c); SBOE Rule 160-5-1-.15(2)(d)(3) and (4), and (2)(h)

Flexibility will allow districts greater ability to award credit based on district determination of student competency. 

• Career Education: SBOE Rule 160-4-8-.08

Flexibility will allow districts to revise their advisement schedules to meet student priority needs. 

• Categorical Allotment Requirements: O.C.G.A. §§ 20-2-167, 20-2-184.1

Flexibility will allow districts to develop and manage their budgets based on district and school improvement plans or needs, without limitation based on state-required use of funds. 

• Certification: O.C.G.A. §§ 20‐2‐200, 20‐2‐201

Flexibility will allow districts and schools to select qualified applicants based on knowledge and expertise, particularly in regard to difficult-to-fill positions, without limitation based on certification requirements. (Does not apply to special education certification.) 

• Class Size and Reporting: O.C.G.A. § 20-2-182; SBOE Rule 160-5-1-.08

Flexibility will allow schools to better manage human resources to meet student needs and enable districts to better manage financial resources in support of school staffing needs. 

• Competencies / Prescribed Courses: O.C.G.A. §20-2-142

Flexibility will allow districts and schools to revise courses of study and sequencing of curriculum around locally developed competencies. 

• Comprehensive Health/Physical Education Program: O.C.G.A. §20-2-777(a)(1); SBOE Rule 160-4-2-.12(2)(b) and (g)

Flexibility will allow the districts and schools the ability to adjust minimum contact hours and provide a waiver from annual assessment requirements. 

• Direct Classroom Expenditures and Expenditure Controls: O.C.G.A. § 20-2-171

Flexibility will allow districts to expend funds based on district and school needs, rather than state-required categories. 

• Educational Programs: O.C.G.A. §§ 20-2-154(b), 20-2-154.1, 20-2-156 and SBOE Rule 160-4-2-.38, SBOE Rule 160-4-5-.01(2)(d)

Flexibility will allow schools to be more nimble in devising delivery models that meet student needs in the areas of Remedial Education, English Language Learner, and/or Gifted services. 

• Georgia Virtual School Funding and Tuition: O.C.G.A §20-2-319.1(b)(2)

Flexibility will allow districts to enroll a class of students in a moderated, asynchronous online course for the tuition rate of $250 per group of no more than 45 students (as long as there is a local staff member with whom the Georgia Virtual School member would coordinate). 

• Graduation Requirements and Seat Time: SBOE Rule 160-4-2-.48(6)(i)

Flexibility will allow districts to award credit for course completion upon mastery of course standards at any time during the semester and waive the clock hour requirements for students to earn a Carnegie Unit of credit during the regular school year and for summer schools. Flexibility will also allow for the substitution of equivalent or higher-level requirements. 

• Organization of Schools / Middle School Programs / Scheduling: SBOE Rule 160-4-2-.05(2)(c), (d), (e), and (g)

Flexibility will allow districts and schools to devise instructional and operational plans in response to student needs, without limitation based on state-determined organizational and time requirements. 

• Personnel Required: SBOE Rule 160-5-1-.22

Flexibility will allow districts to make personnel decisions and adjustments based on student and operational needs. 

• Promotion and Retention: O.C.G.A. §§ 20-2-283, 20-2-284; SBOE Rule 160-4-2-.11

Flexibility will allow districts to waive, modify, or set promotion/retention criteria, as well as protocols for making placement decisions in a timely manner. 

• Scheduling for Instruction: O.C.G.A. §§ 20-2-160 (except to the extent it relates to funding), 20-2-168(c)(1)

Flexibility will allow districts and schools to schedule for instruction in ways that may better meet the needs of students, without the limitation of instructional time requirements set by the state. 

• School Day and School Year for Students and Employees: O.C.G.A. §§ 20-2-151, 20-2-160(a), 20-2-168(c)(1); SBOE Rule 160-5-1-.02

Flexibility will allow districts to waive the allotted requirements of instruction time at each level to focus time on areas of priority for student achievement and course completion. Flexibility will waive the 180-day or the equivalent requirement. 

• Statewide Passing Score: SBOE Rule 160-4-2-.13(2)(d) and (f)

Flexibility waives the requirement that the Georgia Milestones End-of-Course (EOC) assessment shall be used as the final exam in the courses assessed by a Georgia Milestones EOC and waives the requirement that the numeric score on the Georgia Milestones EOC shall count for 20% of the student’s final numeric grade in the course assessed by the Georgia Milestones EOC. 

• Student Assessments: O.C.G.A. §20-2-281; SBOE Rule 160-3-1-.07

Flexibility will waive the administration of, and related requirements for, state assessments scheduled for late Spring 2020 administration.