FULTON COUNTY, Ga. - Fulton County School System officials are defending their decision to make Aug. 21 an excused absence for students, even though some schools operated with nearly more staff than students on the day of the solar eclipse.
“We knew absenteeism would be high,” acknowledged Susan Hale, spokesperson for Fulton Schools. “But without a similar event to compare it to, we didn’t know exactly what to expect with the number of absences.”
Out of 95,000 students enrolled in Fulton Schools this year, about 40,300 were not in school on Aug. 21—about four in every 10 students. Schools in North Fulton saw the highest rate of absenteeism, with more than half its student population taking the day off.
The absentees were most notable in area high schools; Milton High had only 540 students show up out of a population of nearly 2,400 students. Roswell had similar numbers, with 1,831 students out of 2,240 absent on Aug. 21.
Middle school attendance varied, from Northwestern which had fewer than 300 students in school on Aug. 21 to Elkins Pointe where only 77 students were out. On average, elementary schools were running at half capacity.
While all metro area school systems delayed afternoon dismissal during the height of the solar eclipse, not all systems opted to give students an excused absence to stay home. In Gwinnett County, the state’s largest district, students had to have a valid excuse to stay home on Aug. 21.
That decision led to critical comments on Gwinnett’s social media sites as to why a trip to see the solar eclipse could not count as an educational excursion.
In Fulton, Hale said comments were generally favorable regarding Fulton’s decision to make it a parent choice.
“We feel we did the right thing by allowing parents to take their children out of school to observe this rare educational event without penalty to their attendance record,” said Hale.
Anecdotally, parents said some teachers actually encouraged students to stay home on Aug. 21. The directive from the school system was that teachers could not test students that day, nor could any new material be introduced.
Hale said while the district did provide guidelines that all schools had to follow, the decision on how the schools would participate in the solar eclipse was left to the school. That meant some schools allowed their students to be outside during the eclipse, while others made the decision to keep kids inside for safety reasons.
Many parents commented on Fulton’s Facebook page that they wished Fulton had a uniform policy, since some students had a great experience and others had nothing.
“It is a shame all the schools didn’t plan to do the eclipse,” one parent commented. “Really, a missed opportunity to educate and have fun! Something that seems to be missing lately.”