Later school open­ing or­dered

Ho­gan’s de­ci­sion to be­gin after La­bor Day sets off po­lit­i­cal fight

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Erin Cox and Liz Bowie

OCEAN CITY — Gov. Larry Ho­gan de­fied school lead­ers across Mary­land on Wed­nes­day with an ex­ec­u­tive or­der di­rect­ing them to de­lay the start of classes next year un­til after La­bor Day — and wrap up by June 15.

Hold­ing the or­der aloft on the board­walk of this beach­side re­sort town, the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor said the “long-over­due” man­date “will help pro­tect the tra­di­tional end of sum­mer.”

“School after La­bor Day is now the law of the land in Mary­land,” he said.

The move drew im­me­di­ate con­dem­na­tion from ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers — who have op­posed such a man­date in the past — and the Democrats who con­trol the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller called the or­der “ex­tra­or­di­nary and legally ques­tion­able.”

Sean John­son, the lob­by­ist for the state’s teach­ers union, said it “cod­i­fied the brain drain” that oc­curs dur­ing sum­mer va­ca­tion.

But Ho­gan and Demo­cratic Comp­trol­ler

Peter Fran­chot, a key ally, said the longer sum­mer re­cess would give fam­i­lies more time to­gether, gen­er­ate mor­erev­enue for the tourism in­dus­try and help keep stu­dents in the Baltimore re­gion out of swel­ter­ing class­rooms that lack air con­di­tion­ing.

The ex­ec­u­tive or­der over­rides the tra­di­tional lo­cal con­trol over the school cal­en­dar. It is likely to in­spire a po­lit­i­cal fight that will stretch into next year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

The de­bate has pit­ted tourism and busi­ness in­ter­ests ea­ger for more fam­ily travel against ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers and politi­cians who say shift­ing the school year hurts stu­dents and teach­ers.

Baltimore County schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Dal­las Dance said the or­der runs counter to pre­vail­ing wis­dom in ed­u­ca­tion cir­cles.

“Many of us are try­ing to think about ‘How do we give our kids more time in school?’ ” Dance said. He said his dis­trict might have to elim­i­nate time off for re­li­gious hol­i­days and trim spring break to meet the terms of the or­der.

Ho­gan and Fran­chot dis­missed claims that the or­der was il­le­gal.

“The [Mary­land] Con­sti­tu­tion clearly gives us the right to do this,” Ho­gan said. “There is no le­gal ar­gu­ment what­so­ever.”

He said he re­ceived ad­vice from his le­gal coun­sel, but de­clined to re­lease it.

Fran­chot said it was Ho­gan’s “re­spon­si­bil­ity to have a great school sys­tem and a great busi­ness com­mu­nity.

“Why wouldn’t he have the author­ity?” he asked.

Fran­chot launched a “Let Sum­mer Be Sum­mer” ini­tia­tive about two years ago, and Ho­gan signed onto the idea shortly after he was elected in 2014.

Poll­sters at Goucher Col­lege last year found that 72 per­cent of Mary­land res­i­dents sup­ported a statewide man­date to re­quire schools to be­gin after La­bor Day. Sup­port­ers said it would be bet­ter for fam­i­lies and stu­dents, that start­ing ear­lier didn’t make sense, and that the school cal­en­dar should re­turn to the way it used to be.

Tra­di­tion­ally, school dis­tricts be­gan school after the first Mon­day in Septem­ber. In many dis­tricts, the start date be­gan to creep into Au­gust dur­ing the 1990s, as school of­fi­cials grap­pled with a state­man­dated 180-day in­struc­tional year.

State law still re­quires a min­i­mum of 180 school days each year. Ho­gan’s or­der says dis­tricts can get a waiver that al­lows some of those days to fall be­fore La­bor Day or after June 15, so long as they pro­vide “com­pelling jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

Andy Smar­ick, pres­i­dent of the Mary­land State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, which would grant the waivers, said it was the board’s job “to make this work for schools.”

“This is not rocket sci­ence,” Fran­chot said. “They have to start after La­bor Day and get out by the mid­dle of June. In be­tween, they can do any­thing they want Gov. Larry Ho­gan signs an ex­ec­u­tive or­der Wed­nes­day re­quir­ing Mary­land pub­lic schools to be­gin the year after La­bor Day start­ing next year. The move was sup­ported by Comp­trol­ler Peter Fran­chot and con­demned by ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers and the Democrats who con­trol the Gen­eral Assem­bly. with their sched­ules.”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Mee­han said Worces­ter County ac­com­mo­dated the switch to a post-La­bor Day start “seam­lessly” three years ago.

“Ocean City is part of the rea­son be­hind this, but it’s a pos­i­tive move for the whole state,” Mee­han said. “In­stead of peo­ple putting to­gether rea­sons they can’t do this, if they start think­ing about ways they can do this, they’ll see this is some­thing we can all ac­com­plish.”

The new start and stop dates left school of­fi­cials else­where in Mary­land pon­der­ing howto ac­com­mo­date re­li­gious hol­i­days and teacher de­vel­op­ment days while prop­erly pre­par­ing stu­dents for stan­dard­ized tests and fig­ur­ing out how to help im­pov­er­ished com­mu­ni­ties that de­pend on schools to feed chil­dren.

“It’s go­ing to be a real chal­lenge,” said Ali­son Perkins-Co­hen, chief of staff of the Baltimore school sys­tem.

Eighty-four per­cent of pub­lic school stu­dents in Baltimore qual­ify for sub­si­dized meals, and many rely on the school sys­tem for at least two meals a day. Lead­ers in the dis­trict, one of the low­est-per­form­ing in the state, al­ready are con­cerned about learn­ing loss dur­ing the sum­mer — a prob­lem they say is com­pounded by a dearth of sum­mer jobs or other con­struc­tive ac­tiv­i­ties.

“A lot of our stu­dents don’t have ac­cess to va­ca­tions in Ocean City,” Perkins-Co­hen said.

State Sen. Paul G. Pin­sky, vice chair­man of the Ed­u­ca­tion Health and En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said he found the or­der “un­be­liev­able, ac­tu­ally.”

“What that means is what had been the min­i­mum of 180 days of ed­u­ca­tion is go­ing to be­come the max­i­mum,” said the Prince Ge­orge’s County Demo­crat, a for­mer ed­u­ca­tor. “There’s a bit of a pa­tron­iz­ing at­ti­tude that the busi­ness peo­ple of Ocean City can tell the peo­ple of Baltimore City how to run the schools. …

“For those peo­ple try­ing to add more rigor to the aca­demic cal­en­dar, it sends a pretty bad mes­sage.”

The sec­tion of the Mary­land Con­sti­tu­tion that grants the gov­er­nor author­ity to change law by ex­ec­u­tive or­der also al­lows the Gen­eral Assem­bly to re­verse some of those ac­tions. It was un­clear Wed­nes­day howlaw­mak­ers would re­spond to the or­der, but they promised to do so.

State Sen. Joan Carter Con­way, the Baltimore Demo­crat who chairs a com­mit­tee that re­peat­edly killed leg­is­la­tion that would have re­quired schools to open after La­bor Day, pre­dicted the Demo­crat­ic­con­trolled leg­is­la­ture would re­turn con­trol of the school cal­en­dar to lo­cal dis­tricts.

Ho­gan said leg­is­la­tors who re­versed his or­der “would prob­a­bly lose their jobs.”

Sen. James N. Mathias Jr., a Demo­crat from Ocean City who has spent years try­ing to per­suade col­leagues to keep schools closed un­til after La­bor Day, called Ho­gan’s or­der “a dream come true.”

Matthew Boulay, founder and CEO of Na­tional Sum­mer Learn­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, said the new sched­ule would hurt the state’s most vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents.

“We have this myth about what sum­mer va­ca­tion is,” he said. “It goes back to Huck Finn and Mark Twain.” The re­al­ity is dif­fer­ent, he said. “Many chil­dren look for­ward to the school year, and it is a sta­ble, lov­ing en­vi­ron­ment, and it makes no sense to de­lay it.”

Karl Alexan­der, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, fol­lowed stu­dents in Baltimore over two decades. His re­search showed they lose an av­er­age of two months of learn­ing over the sum­mer. The loss is great­est for chil­dren from low-in­come fam­i­lies who don’t have ac­cess to sum­mer camps and other en­rich­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

This year, only one school dis­trict in Mary­land — Worces­ter County, home to Ocean City — chose to start after La­bor Day.

For Baltimore County mother Nicki Boll­horst, start­ing school after La­bor Day didn’t seem like a dif­fi­cult prob­lem to solve.

“We did it when we were in high school,” she said. “I think they can fig­ure it out.”

She and her fam­ily spend sum­mers in Ocean City. Ho­gan gave her 10-year-old son, Ben, a note ex­cus­ing him from school Wed­nes­day so he could at­tend the news con­fer­ence.

“We like the ex­tra 10 days at the beach,” she said.

CAITLIN FAW/BALTIMORE SUN

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.