Atlanta Board of Education website
During most years, the Atlanta Public Schools calendar is a document not known for quick changes. This year, whether the district’s calendar can change has implications for American democracy.
The current APS calendar for the 2020-2021 school year brings students back from Winter Break on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. That is also the date of the statewide run-off for two United States Senate seats, which will decide the balance of power in Washington D.C. for the next two years.
Because of this overlap, the Atlanta Board of Education should amend the current calendar so that both students and faculty have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote without the trade-off of missing school or work.
There are three ways the Board can amend the calendar regarding Jan. 5. First, the board can vote to make Jan. 5 an additional day off for both students and teachers. This avenue would allow both students and teachers the ability to vote in a monumental election.
The second option is to make Jan. 5 a Teacher Professional Work Day, commonly referred to as a teacher workday. This avenue would effectively extend Winter Break for students as Jan. 4 is a teacher workday. It would also be following Board precedent, as Election Day on Nov. 3 was also a teacher workday. This change is not entirely ideal because teachers would still be held to the full workday obligations as any other day.
The third option is the least ideal for voter turnout. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, APS announced it would make Wednesdays an asynchronous learning day, in which students work independently. Because the policy of a weekly asynchronous day already exists, the board could make Jan. 5 an asynchronous day. This change would keep students and teachers out of synchronous classes; however, given the current obligations of asynchronous instructional days, it would still hamper their ability to vote.
After blatant attacks on democracy from the highest office in the land, it is time the board takes a stand in defense of our electoral process.
The district understands the importance of voting. The Good Trouble Voter Campaign launched during the 2020 election cycle focused on registering students to vote. Registration is a crucial step towards voting, but if an individual does not have the flexibility to physically cast their ballot, their registration does not matter.
The stakes of this simple decision could not be higher. Between the General Election on Nov. 3 and the run-off on Jan. 5, roughly 23,000 Georgians will turn 18 and, for the first time in their lives, be able to vote. Thousands of these students, as well as students and faculty who previously registered, are in APS and deserve their district’s support while exercising their fundamental right to franchise. While absentee ballots and early voting may address some volume on Jan. 5, in-person voting will still play an enormous role in the run-off elections.
The mission statement of APS reads: “Through a caring culture of equity, trust, and collaboration, every student will graduate ready for college, career, and life.” As a senior who will cast my first-ever ballot for the senate run-offs, I believe a decision to amend the calendar not only follows this mission statement but is necessary to uphold it.