Spring break could be cut

School of­fi­cials in Md. scram­ble to meet edict on school year

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

School ad­min­is­tra­tors across the state say they will con­sider short­en­ing spring break to meet the re­quire­ments of Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s new ex­ec­u­tive or­der to start the school year af­ter La­bor Day be­gin­ning next year.

From Al­le­gany County to the Eastern Shore, Mary­land school sys­tems will be rip­ping up their ten­ta­tive 2017-2018 cal­en­dars and try­ing to squeeze in five to 10 more days of in­struc­tion be­tween La­bor Day and June 15, the date schools have been or­dered to fin­ish.

“Many of those who were glee­ful at the gov­er­nor’s an­nounce­ment about the start date may well be an­gry when some of the harsh de­ci­sions that have to be made about the cal­en­dar are pre­sented to the board later this fall,” said Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arun­del County public schools.

Cal­en­dars must be ap­proved by school boards in late Oc­to­ber or early Novem­ber af­ter school ad­min­is­tra­tors make changes.

Spring break could be fleet­ing, ad­min­is­tra­tors said. To save it and make cal­en­dars work, school of­fi­cials might press the Gen­eral Assem­bly to re­duce re­quired hol­i­days such as the Mon­day af­ter Easter or Pres­i­dents Day that are man­dated by state law. Teacher con­tracts might need to be rewrit­ten to re­move or re­duce pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment days. And par­ent-teacher con­fer­ence days could fall by the way­side.

Ho­gan, who an­nounced the ex­ec­u­tive or­der in Ocean City on Wed­nes­day, said length­en­ing sum­mer va­ca­tion would give fam­i­lies more time to­gether, gen­er­ate rev­enue for the state’s tourism in­dus­try and help keep stu­dents in the Baltimore re­gion out of swel­ter­ing class­rooms in late Au­gust in schools that lack air con­di­tion­ing.

The gov­er­nor went on the of­fen­sive Thurs­day to re­but school lead­ers’ com-

ments about the po­ten­tial neg­a­tive im­pact of his edict. His of­fice is­sued a “Myth­buster” memo quot­ing state­ments by school of­fi­cials in Anne Arun­del, Baltimore, Ce­cil, Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties, and of­fer­ing ar­gu­ments for why the new school cal­en­dar is a great idea.

Jonathan Cook, pres­i­dent of the Worces­ter County school board, agreed with Ho­gan. Cook said his school sys­tem, which op­er­ates on a Septem­ber to June cal­en­dar, has not had a dif­fi­cult time start­ing af­ter La­bor Day. “It was not hard; it was a mat­ter of set­ting pri­or­i­ties,” he said.

In ex­change for giv­ing stu­dents a longer sum­mer break, the Worces­ter County board short­ened the Thanks­giv­ing, Christ­mas and spring breaks, and al­lot­ted just three days for in­clement weather.

Many school lead­ers across the state are un­con­vinced that chang­ing the aca­demic cal­en­dar will be pain-free. They say the move will worsen the prob­lem of learn­ing loss that chil­dren ex­pe­ri­ence over sum­mer break. It also could cre­ate child-care chal­lenges for fam­i­lies and leave chil­dren who rely on free school meals vul­ner­a­ble.

“This is a mis­take for Mary­land’s chil- dren,” said David Cox, Al­le­gany County su­per­in­ten­dent and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the state’s school su­per­in­ten­dents as­so­ci­a­tion. “We don’t be­grudge the mer­chants in Ocean City for want­ing to make more money, but it is our job is to ad­vo­cate for all of our stu­dents.”

Cox and su­per­in­ten­dents across the state now are scram­bling to take apart their care­fully con­structed cal­en­dars. Many state school sys­tems build five to seven days into their cal­en­dars to ac­com­mo­date can­cel­la­tions for bad weather. That means schools must plan to com­plete the re­quired180 days of in­struc­tion by the week be­fore June 15.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors in Anne Arun­del must switch 10 of 12 days cur­rently sched­uled for stu­dents to be off to school days.

“It is not like you have a hun­dred dif­fer­ent op­tions here,” Mosier said.

Not only will spring break be trimmed, he said, but the Wed­nes­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing likely will be­come a school day, as will some days re­served for par­ent-teacher con­fer­ences.

In Baltimore County, six days must be switched to in­struc­tion days, said John Mayo, the dis­trict’s chief hu­man re­sources of­fi­cer. There are only four that can be cut from spring break, he said. So that leaves two more to turn into school days. Teach­ers have Sept. 1, 2017, which is a Mus­lim hol­i­day, off for pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment. The county also is off for a Jewish hol­i­day and two other pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment days.

Mosier said schools can ask the leg­is­la­ture to change the law to al­low them to open school on some hol­i­days. Man­dated hol­i­days in­clude La­bor Day, Thanks­giv­ing and the day af­ter, Christ­mas Eve through Jan. 1, Pres­i­dent’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Good Fri­day and Easter Mon­day, and Me­mo­rial Day.

School of­fi­cials say they are re­con­ven­ing cal­en­dar com­mit­tees, which in­clude par­ents, teach­ers, test­ing ad­min­is­tra­tors, prin­ci­pals and oth­ers in the com­mu­nity, to de­velop new plans to be of­fered to school boards for votes this fall.

Ho­gan’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der al­lows dis­tricts to seek ex­emp­tions from the start and end dates, and some school of­fi­cials say they will likely ask for a waiver. School of­fi­cials ex­pect the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly to weigh in when it re­con­venes in Jan­uary, and pos­si­bly to re­verse the gov­er­nor’s de­ci­sion.

Mosier said Anne Arun­del County will ap­prove a cal­en­dar that com­plies with the ex­ec­u­tive or­der and ad­just it if the leg­is­la­ture makes changes.

An­swer­ing crit­ics who ques­tioned the le­gal­ity of his man­date, the gov­er­nor is­sued a state­ment say­ing the Mary­land Con­sti­tu­tion gives him author­ity over the ex­ec­u­tive branch of gov­ern­ment.

“This author­ity in­cludes the abil­ity to is­sue ex­ec­u­tive or­ders,” the state­ment read. “Mary­land courts have rou­tinely rec­og­nized lo­cal boards of ed­u­ca­tion as modes of state gov­ern­ment.”

Oth­ers said that even if Ho­gan’s man­date is le­gal, it should have been done through a more in­clu­sive process.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arun­del Demo­crat, tweeted: “Look, there might be a le­git­i­mate ar­gu­ment here, but you don’t do it by ex­ec­u­tive or­der.”

The Baltimore Teach­ers Union said it “prefers that any aca­demic cal­en­dar changes come through the demo­crat­i­cally elected Gen­eral Assem­bly and not a uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion by the gov­er­nor.”

Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­quires that Mary­land public schools, be­gin­ning next year, start af­ter La­bor Day and end by June 15.

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