Spring break could be cut
School officials in Md. scramble to meet edict on school year
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.