State school board would speed La­bor Day waivers

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Liz Bowie and Michael Dresser

The state school board sig­naled Tues­day that it will stream­line de­ci­sions on grant­ing waivers to lo­cal boards of ed­u­ca­tion that don’t want to go along with Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der push­ing the start of school un­til af­ter La­bor Day next year.

Af­ter a spir­ited dis­cus­sion at its reg­u­lar monthly meet­ing about who con­trols ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy, the board adopted a res­o­lu­tion say­ing it in­tends to ap­prove such ex­cep­tions “ex­pe­di­tiously” as long as the lo­cal boards can pro­vide “rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tions of the ed­u­ca­tional ben­e­fits to stu­dents.”

Ho­gan is­sued his ex­ec­u­tive or­der Aug. 31 in Ocean City, say­ing that ex­tend­ing sum­mer va­ca­tion through Au­gust would boost the state’s tourism. While law­mak­ers have ques-

tioned the le­gal­ity of the ex­ec­u­tive or­der, a re­cent Goucher Poll showed that vot­ers ap­proved of the gover­nor’s de­ci­sion even if they ques­tioned his method.

A num­ber of state school board mem­bers said they be­lieved lo­cal school boards should de­cide the cal­en­dar for stu­dents. Mean­while, the gover­nor’s of­fice sig­naled that it wants the state board to ad­here strictly to the pro­vi­sions of Ho­gan’s or­der.

Ho­gan spokesman Doug Mayer said board mem­ber Andy Smar­ick and Su­per­in­ten­dent Karen Sal­mon both as­sured the gover­nor’s of­fice that the board will in no way ap­prove waivers be­fore reg­u­la­tions have been adopted “as the ex­ec­u­tive or­der clearly re­quires.”

Mayer noted that the ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­quires a “com­pelling jus­ti­fi­ca­tion” for a waiver.

“That’s why the reg­u­la­tions need to be pro­mul­gated,” said Mayer, adding that process should take about 90 days.

Smar­ick’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion was slightly dif­fer­ent, how­ever. He said it is pos­si­ble that new reg­u­la­tions might not make it through the state rule-mak­ing process un­til some­time in the spring. That could com­pli­cate de­ci­sion-mak­ing for school dis­tricts as they put to­gether their 2017-2018 cal­en­dars.

The res­o­lu­tion calls for in­terim guide­lines to be drawn up for the next school year, said Smar­ick, a Ho­gan ap­pointee. The for­mal reg­u­la­tions would then gov­ern 2018-2019 and sub­se­quent school years.

“How do we be­gin the im­ple­men­ta­tion process, re­al­iz­ing that this is some­thing dis­tricts are grap­pling with right now?” Smar­ick said. “I don’t want to tell you ev­ery­one is of the same mind on the pol­icy, but there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween the pol­icy and the im­ple­men­ta­tion process.”

Smar­ick de­clined to com­ment on the pol­icy it­self.

School board mem­ber Laura Weel­dreyer, an­other Ho­gan ap­pointee, said the board “wanted this res­o­lu­tion and the forth­com­ing guid­ance to be clear that the state board is en­cour­ag­ing waiver re­quests and that this is an is­sue that be­longs to the lo­cals.”

She asked: “What could be more fun­da­men­tal to ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy than in­struc- tional time?”

Un­til Tues­day, school board mem­bers, the ma­jor­ity of whom are Ho­gan ap­pointees, had not weighed in on the La­bor Day is­sue.

Ho­gan’s or­der not only said that the pub­lic school year could not start un­til af­ter La­bor Day, but that schools had to dis­miss for the sum­mer by June 15.

That left lo­cal school boards try­ing to fig­ure out which va­ca­tion days to cut, and a num­ber have sug­gested that they will elim­i­nate some or most of spring break.

Weel­dreyer said there is a lot of re­search that shows low-in­come stu­dents are the most likely to back­slide aca­dem­i­cally dur­ing long sum­mer breaks with­out stim­u­lat­ing ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Low-in­come stu­dents are also less likely to have the re­sources to visit Ocean City, she said.

“The state board could not have been clearer” about its in­tent to ap­prove waivers, said John Woolums, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Boards of Ed­u­ca­tion, who was at the meet­ing.

He pre­dicted that at least sev­eral school sys­tems will ask for them.

Mont­gomery County is likely one of them. The county board has asked the as­so­ci­a­tion to fight to over­turn the gover­nor’s or­der.

One of the strong­est pro­po­nents of de­lay­ing the school year un­til af­ter La­bor Day is Comptroller Peter Fran­chot, a Demo­crat who suc­cess­fully lob­bied the Repub­li­can gover­nor to sup­port the move.

Alan Brody, a spokesman for Fran­chot, said Tues­day that the comptroller had not heard about the school board’s move. He de­clined to com­ment.

Sen. James Mathias, a Demo­crat and for­mer Ocean City mayor who spon­sored leg­is­la­tion call­ing for a post-La­bor Day start, said he was not sur­prised by the school board’s ac­tion.

“We’ll have to see how it all works out,” said Mathias, who rep­re­sents Worces­ter County, which al­ready starts its school year af­ter La­bor Day.

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