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Storms lead to shorter Christmas holiday
Make-up days in wake of Matthew, Hermine include two during Christmas break

Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Hermine claimed another victim. This time, it was the start of Christmas break for students and teachers in the Liberty County School System.

The school board decided at Tuesday morning’s work session to add five days to the school calendar to make up for classes missed due to Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Hermine at Tuesday morning’s work session. The make-up days include Dec. 19 and 20, which is the start of the system’s Christmas break.

The other make up days are Feb. 17, April 14 and May 12. An all staff conference day was reset for Jan. 4. And, Liberty County High School will push its end of course tests back three days.

The decisions didn’t come without a good deal of discussion.

Susan Avant, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said the Georgia Department of Education agreed to push back the end of course test and give teachers more time for instruction.

Board member Marcus Scott IV asked if there were any waivers from the state because of severe weather.

Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee

said a waiver was not requested because students need the instruction time in order to perform better on the Georgia Milestone Assessment System test.

"Our focus was trying to come up with days that would be the least impactful to staff as it relates to holiday plans," Lee said. "We also took into consideration that we could’ve used Veterans Day, but out of respect for Fort Stewart and being a military town, and how we as a district express appreciation for veterans, we decided against that. We also looked at Thanksgiving but felt it was too close. We felt that two months out to Christmas, people would be in a better shape."

She added it was important for Liberty County High School not to miss any days because of block scheduling, which results in four classes in a day. Lee said block scheduling allows Liberty to finish a school year within a semester, while Bradwell Institute, with a traditional schedule of seven classes a day, spreads the school year across two semesters.

"We want to make sure that everybody gets the adequate instruction, particularly since it will affect the teachers’ evaluations in terms of student growth," Lee said.

Board member Carolyn Smith Carter said years ago classes were made up on Saturdays because of inclement weather. She talked about school personnel who may not be able to get refunds for airline reservations made on Dec. 19 and 20.

Carter said she heard from teachers concerned that their holiday plans will be affected.

"Since it’s only two days, why not make it up on Saturday in November?" Carter asked.

Lee said she considered Saturday make up days but also factored in the number of students participating in weekend activities, the impact on parents and coordinating transportation since some bus drivers may not be available on weekends.

Lee said the first priority is the students, then the adults. She said principals will decide on a case by case basis on those teachers who already have travel plans on Dec. 19 or 20.

Board member Verdell Jones said airlines have allowed people to change flight dates and times in cases of emergency.

She suggested people inquire with airlines about changing dates or refunds since Liberty County was under a state of emergency and working in a school system is a "critical career field."

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