Gov. Sonny Perdue spent much of last week explaining to Georgia parents and school officials his unexpected, and perhaps unprecedented, decision to ask school districts not to open Sept. 26 and 27.
As Hurricane Rita was approaching the Texas and Louisiana coasts on Sept. 23, a Friday, the governor asked all districts in the state to take what he called two “early snow days” the following Monday and Tuesday as a precautionary measure in order to save fuel.
All but three of the state’s 180 districts heeded the surprise request.
The two days off were expected by the governor to save more than 450,000 gallons of diesel fuel and help keep heating and electricity bills down because schools would be closed for four consecutive days. Observers had predicted that during that time, fuel prices would make a much steeper climb than was ultimately the case.
“In recent weeks, the nation has experienced temporary disruptions of gas supply as a result of Hurricane Katrina,” the Republican governor said in a statement. “While we cannot predict the future, we do know that effective conservation will be a reliable approach as we anticipate the effects of Hurricane Rita.”
Robin Leeds, a spokeswoman for the National School Transportation Association in Alexandria, Va., said it was almost impossible for her to calculate how much fuel closing school for two days would save without knowing how many buses run in the state, how many children they hold, and how many routes are rural or urban.
The voluntary school closings were part of a series of actions the governor took to conserve fuel. He also canceled “nonessential” travel and allowed some telecommuting arrangements for state employees, temporarily relaxed the weight limits on fuel trucks coming into Georgia from Florida, and encouraged private citizens to car pool.
The governor’s initiative received attention from President Bush. During a press conference at the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington last week, the president said Gov. Perdue “showed some leadership” because he anticipated a problem and took steps to address it.
While schools often close at the threat of bad weather, some state and national education observers were unaware of past examples of calls by governors for statewide school closures as a way to save energy.
“We are not aware of any other situations where this has taken place,” said Kara Schlosser, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers.
Because most schools were closed Monday and Tuesday of last week, Georgia education officials had to reschedule the state’s high school writing test for Thursday, Sept. 29.
State schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said she sympathized with parents who had to make last-minute arrangements for their children, but expressed her support for the governor’s request.
“While I never like to see classes canceled, unprecedented events call for an unprecedented response,” Ms. Cox, a mother of two school-age children, said in a press release. “While I realize this action will cause an inconvenience for some parents, we must do what we feel is in the best interests of the state.”
While most students had the two days off, students in three Georgia districts attended class as usual. The Floyd County, Rome, and Thomasville districts remained open.
In a letter on the district’s Web site to parents and community members, school officials in Floyd County, north of Atlanta, said that the governor’s request had come too late, and that closing down for two days was “not in the best interest of students” because their schools were already scheduled to be closed on Friday.
The 10,000-student district follows a year-round schedule, and Sept. 30 was set aside as a planning day for teachers before the schools close for a fall intersession.
The letter also said that the district had already been working to conserve fuel.
“The school system began using biofuels for our fleet of buses, and school field trips were canceled until further notice,” the letter said. “Floyd County was one of the first school systems in the state to use environmentally friendly biofuels.”
Jennifer Peppers, a spokeswoman for the district, said that the local response to Floyd County’s decision to stay open was positive.
“A lot of our parents were glad,” said Ms. Peppers, who has three children of her own in the district. She added that her children were also glad because “they like to go see their friends.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2005 edition of Education Week as Most Ga. Schools Heed Conservation-Minded Call to Close