You have requested my opinion concerning interpretation of O.C.G.A. § 50-3-3, which reads as follows:

The state flag shall be displayed on appropriate occasions in the public and private schools of this state and in all patriotic meetings, and the citizens of the state are requested to take the pledge of allegiance set out in Code Section 50-3-2.

You have asked whether the time between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on days when school attendance is required constitutes an "appropriate occasion" under this statute.

The cardinal rule for the construction of statutes is to ascertain the intent of the legislature. O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(a); Wilson v. Board of Regents of the Univ. Sys. of Georgia, 246

Ga. 649 (1980). Given the legislative history and looking to the ordinary meaning of the words of the statute, as required by O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(b), it is apparent that the General Assembly intended that the state flag should be displayed in the schools, qualified by the words "on appropriate occasions." See also O.C.G.A. § 50-3-4 (Secretary of State is authorized to furnish state flags for display in public schools); O.C.G.A. § 50-3-4.1 (local school superintendents are authorized to place durable posters of the state flag in each public school library and classroom). See generally Ryan v. Commissioners of Chatham County, 203 Ga. 730 (1948) (interpretation of statutes "in pari materia").

Your question concerns the determination of what is an "appropriate occasion." Neither O.C.G.A. § 50-3-3 nor other related Code Sections provide specific guidance on this issue. Compare O.C.G.A. § 20-2-310(c), which provides that local school boards are to afford each public school student the opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag "during each school day." In the context of education law, the discretion to make the determination of "appropriate occasion" with respect to display of the state flag would lie with the school board and local school superintendents, who are charged with the general governance of the local systems. Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. V, Para. II; O.C.G.A. § 20-2-59; see 1988 Op. Att'y Gen. U88-9. Discretionary decisions by public school officials must relate to education. 1988 Op. Att'y Gen. U88-9 (requiring a "nexus" between school rules and the educational environment). In general, discretion in public officials may not be challenged unless they abuse it or arbitrarily refuse to exercise it within the parameters of their particular responsibility and duty. See Fourth Street Baptist Church of Columbus v. Board of Registrars, 253 Ga. 368, 369 (1984). Thus, so long as they do not act arbitrarily and they base their policies and rules on reasons related to education, local school officials may make their own determinations governing appropriate occasions for display of the state flag in the public schools, including a determination that displaying the state flag during the time between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on days when school attendance is required is an "appropriate occasion." On the other hand, a local school board cannot arbitrarily and capriciously refuse to carry out the duty to display the state flag on appropriate occasions, as provided by O.C.G.A. § 50-3-3.

Therefore, based on the foregoing, it is my unofficial opinion that O.C.G.A. § 50-3-3 requires that the state flag be displayed in the schools on appropriate occasions, as determined by local school boards, within their scope of discretion relating to educational responsibilities.

Prepared by:

Senior Assistant Attorney General

The predecessor of the present Code Section was a Resolution approved March 28, 1935, which resolved that the state flag "be displayed at appropriate occasions in the public schools of this State and in all patriotic meetings." 1935 Ga. Laws 1253. The preamble of the resolution expressed the intent that the flag of Georgia along with the national flag "should be displayed on all public holidays and in all public schools and civic gatherings."