Rome City Schools has joined the wave of systems across Georgia that will delay the start of classes next month. The school board, meeting in a special called session Thursday night, agreed to reset the opening day for students to Aug. 13.

Superintendent Lou Byars said the extra time will allow for additional training of teachers in the event of a need to switch to complete virtual teaching on a day’s notice should the COVID-19 situation take a dramatic turn for the worse.

One of the questions brought up during the videoconference meeting was if eight additional days is long enough.

“I don’t know how long is long enough,” Byars said

The change does not impact any of the rest of the school calendar. Teachers will still report for preplanning July 29.

Byars said some of the training days will be done virtually as well, since many of the teachers have children of their own to take care of.

Another change the Rome City Schools board approved Thursday night was a shift of the start time for middle and high school students from 8:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. That means the school day would end at 3:45 p.m. Elementary schools will still be in session from 7:45 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

The change in the hours was necessitated by the time it will take to thoroughly sanitize school buses between runs.

Byars also made it clear that the city system would require students who start the year in their regular classroom to wear masks.

Students will also have to wear masks on the school bus to protect the other students and the driver.

Byars said that any students or staff who could not wear masks would be provided with shields that are, at least in part, being made on 3-D printers within the system.

The school board also delayed a decision on a live graduation ceremony that is currently scheduled for July 18. Chairwoman Faith Collins asked how the city could cancel graduation and justify starting classes three weeks later.

Board member Melissa Davis suggested more intimate, almost individual ceremonies that would give students a chance to walk across the stage and get pictures made with their family and friends, in groups of less than 50. A survey students indicated that close to 200, almost half of the 2020 graduates, expressed an interest in a physical ceremony.

Byars said he will discuss the idea with staff and get additional input from parents before making a final recommendation at the regularly scheduled board meeting Tuesday night.

The board also got a look at the amended Fiscal Year 21 budget of approximately $60.3 million — approximately $2.3 million less than the original budget for FY20.

Byars said the system started FY20 with a fund balance between $11 million and $12 million, but had to buy a bus fleet and land after the federal government mandated the city no longer use Rome Transit Department inventory.

The new budget proposes to retain a fund balance at the end of the FY21 term in the range of $4.2 million.

“It’s not great, but it’s not bad,” Byars said.

The system will hold two public hearings to get input into the budget. The first will be held in conjunction with the regularly scheduled board meeting Tuesday.

The budget does provide three furlough days for every employee within the system. Many of the administrative staff took two days on July 1 and 2. Teachers were originally slated to start on July 27 but will take July 27 and 28 as two of their furlough days. Everyone will take the last day of their contract — a post-planning day for teachers on May 26 — as the final day of their furlough.

In other action, the board approved a $43,750 contract for public relations services with U Public Relations, a new firm in Rome.

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