Although the Dalton Board of Education voted this week to move the first day of school from Aug. 6 to Aug. 31 in hopes that community spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) will have slowed by then, the rest of the 2020-21 calendar remains unsettled.
Board members have several options, which can alter when the year will end for students and/or staff. Those choices can also change how many days off students enjoy around holidays like Thanksgiving.
With 172 student days, students would conclude their year on June 2, 2021, while a calendar with 174 students days would end June 4, said Don Amonett, deputy superintendent of Dalton Public Schools. Both of those potential calendars keep a five-day break for Thanksgiving, which was part of the original calendar with the Aug. 6 start date.
It's become customary in Dalton Public Schools for the Christmas break to coincide with the end of the first semester, but that won't be the case this year, Amonett said. With an end-of-August start date, it's "impossible" for the first semester not to run into January, at least without radically slashing off-days during the first four months of the school year, which neither the board members nor administrators have any desire for.
Dalton Public Schools could subtract a day or two of vacation Thanksgiving week, however, to add student days during the year rather than at the end, and of all years, this might be the one to do it, said Palmer Griffin, vice chairman of the school board. With fewer days off around the holiday, families are less likely to travel and/or travel a great distance, which could protect them from the coronavirus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions against travel during the pandemic, noting "staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick."
"Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19, (and while) we don’t know if one type of travel is safer than others, airports, bus stations, train stations and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces," according to the CDC. "These are also places where it can be hard to social distance."
Even with the 172-day calendar, "we'd still have enough minutes with our regular bell schedule" to meet state mandates, Amonett said. Dalton Public Schools officials would prefer not to run the 2020-21 year too far into the summer of 2021, because the system needs a longer summer to move into several new buildings for the 2021-22 academic year.
That year will see the debut of Hammond Creek, a new building for students in grades six and seven; Dalton Junior High, which would be a remodeled version of the current Dalton Middle School and serve students in grades eight and nine; and The Dalton Academy, a magnet school for students in grades 10-12 on the campus of the current middle school.
However, the system could elect to push the start date of the 2021-22 academic year later to lengthen the summer break with the later end date for the 2020-21 academic term, said Superintendent Tim Scott. Typically, Dalton Public Schools releases students in mid-to-late May.
Board members plan to vote on a revised 2020-21 calendar during their next meeting on Aug. 10.