First day jit­ters

Youngest county stu­dents head back to school

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JES­SICA IANNETTA & BRI­ANNA SHEA

jian­netta@ce­cil­whig.com

— A few tears mixed with the fall­ing rain on Thurs­day morn­ing as the county’s youngest stu­dents went back to school.

While stu­dents in grades one through 12 went back to

CE­CIL COUNTY

school on Mon­day, the youngest stu­dents — those in preschool, pre-K and kin­der­garten — had their first day of school on Thurs­day. For many of them, it was their first, first day of school, an event that drew mixed emo­tions from both the stu­dents and their fam­i­lies.

“It’s happy and it’s sad at the same time,” said Bon­nie Ad­kins, who was drop­ping her grand­son Damien, 3, off at

over the past sev­eral years. Some leg­isla­tive lead­ers an­nounced Wed­nes­day that they were seek­ing rul­ings from the Mary­land Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral as to whether the gov­er­nor could man­date a start date, while oth­ers said they an­tic­i­pated re­buff­ing the gov­er­nor’s plans in the next assem­bly.

But Ho­gan’s an­nounce­ment comes as a vic­tory for Comptroller Peter Fran­chot who has ad­vo­cated start­ing school af­ter La­bor Day for years with his “Let Sum­mer Be Sum­mer” cam­paign. Both the gov­er­nor and Fran­chot have re­peat­edly em­pha­sized the eco­nomic ben­e­fits such a change would have, while also tout­ing strong pop­u­lar sup­port for a postLa­bor Day start.

In­deed, a 2013 eco­nomic im­pact study by Mary­land’s Bureau of Rev­enue Es­ti­mates found that a post-La­bor Day start would gen­er­ate an ex­tra $74.3 mil­lion in direct eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity while two Goucher Col­lege polls from 2014 and 2015 show more than 70 per­cent of Mary­lan­ders sup­port the is­sue.

But re­gard­less of the statis­tics, the state’s ed­u­ca­tional es­tab­lish­ment is gear­ing up for a fight. The Public School Su­per­in­ten­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Mary­land, the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Boards of Ed­u­ca­tion and the Mary­land State Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, among oth­ers, have all con­demned Ho­gan’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der and Ce­cil County ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers have fol­lowed suit.

On Thurs­day morn­ing, Su­perin- ten­dent D’Ette Devine had strong words for the gov­er­nor’s man­date, call­ing it “ill-ad­vised” and “re­ally anti-stu­dent.” The ex­ec­u­tive or­der, Devine said, could lead to a re­duc­tion in in­struc­tion days and days off dur­ing the school year and flies in the face of lo­cal con­trol by pre­vent­ing school sys­tems from set­ting their own cal­en­dars, all while hav­ing lit­tle eco­nomic ben­e­fit.

“Ed­u­ca­tional cal­en­dars are for schools; they’re not to help the state raise money, they’re not to plan fam­ily va­ca­tions. That’s not what it’s about. It’s an in­struc­tional cal­en­dar that we take a lot of time with to make sure it’s the right mix for kids, teach­ers and their fam­i­lies,” she said.

The strong op­po­si­tion from al­most ev­ery ed­u­ca­tional group in the state is fur­ther proof that the law will only harm stu­dents, Devine said. In cre­at­ing the school cal­en­dar, school sys­tems al­ready must take into ac­count a va­ri­ety of fac­tors in­clud­ing state and fed­er­ally-man­dated test­ing, na­tional hol­i­days, in­clement weather days and pro­fes­sional days, which are ne­go­ti­ated with the teach­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion.

In the end, be­cause of the June 15 end date, stu­dents may have a longer sum­mer but will lose many other days dur­ing the school year such as the Wed­nes­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing and the days be­fore Christ­mas Eve when that hol­i­day falls mid-week, Devine said.

“This is no easy deal be­cause it’s go­ing to af­fect ev­ery­thing else,” she said. “We’re still work­ing through the nu­ances, so I’m not ex­actly sure what some of the un­in­tended con­se­quences will be.”

De­pend­ing on the year and how hol­i­days fall, some years it may end up be­ing math­e­mat­i­cally im­pos­si­ble to fit 180 days in be­tween the day af­ter La­bor Day and June 15, Devine said, which would lead to a loss of in­struc­tion days.

Devine also doubts the ex­ec­u­tive or­der will have the eco­nomic ben­e­fits that Fran­chot and Ho­gan have claimed.

“Right now, the free and re­duced meals num­ber in Mary­land is 50 per­cent,” Devine said. “Do you think their fam­i­lies are tak­ing mul­ti­ple va­ca­tions to Ocean City ev­ery year? Yeah, nei­ther are our 45 per­cent here in Ce­cil County.”

Ev­ery school sys­tem is dif­fer­ent and the in­di­vid­ual coun­ties should have flex­i­bil­ity in cre­at­ing a sched­ule that meets the needs of its in­di­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ties and stu­dents, Devine said. For ex­am­ple, Worces­ter County, home to Ocean City, al­ready starts af­ter La­bor Day, a sched­ule that works well for that county but that shouldn’t be im­posed on the rest of the state, she noted.

Ce­cil County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Pres­i­dent Dawn Branch shared Devine’s con­cerns about lo­cal con­trol, while also not­ing the un­in­tended ed­u­ca­tional con­se­quences the ex­ec­u­tive or­der will have.

“I don’t think you can put ed­u­ca­tion and the econ­omy in the same sen­tence,” she said. “You have to do what’s best for stu­dents.”

Ev­ery county should be able to de­ter­mine its own sched­ule based on its own needs, Branch said. In Ce­cil County, only a small mi­nor­ity of peo­ple have ever asked the school board for a post-La­bor Day start, she added, and she wor­ries that Ho­gan’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der may lead to other man­dates.

“What comes next? What else is he go­ing to change?” she said.

Lori Hrinko, pres­i­dent of the Ce­cil County Class­room Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, also had con­cerns about Ho­gan’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der. A longer sum­mer could have many un­in­tended con­se­quences for fam­i­lies, she noted, cit­ing higher day­care costs for work­ing par­ents and con­cerns about stu­dents who are “food in­se­cure” and don’t have as much ac­cess to free meals dur­ing the sum­mer months.

The longer break in in­struc­tion could also fur­ther add to what ed­u­ca­tors re­fer to as the “sum­mer slide,” when stu­dents lose aca­demic skills over the sum­mer months away from class­rooms, Hrinko said.

“As a teacher, (the kids) kind of shut off in June, do their own thing in the sum­mer and then it takes a few weeks to get them started again,” she said.

But other county of­fi­cials were more op­ti­mistic about a post-La­bor Day start.

Sandy Turner, Ce­cil County tourism co­or­di­na­tor, called Ho­gan’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der “won­der­ful news” and ex­pects it will have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the county tourism in­dus­try.

“An ex­tra week or two of sum­mer va­ca­tion can gen­er­ate mil­lions in ad­di­tional tax rev­enues for the state,” she said in a state­ment. “This cer­tainly has the po­ten­tial to give a boost to Ce­cil County’s small busi­nesses which are the back­bone of our lo­cal tourism in­dus­try. There has been tremen­dous sup­port for this ini­tia­tive through­out Mary­land for many years.”

Del­e­gate Kevin Horn­berger (RCe­cil), who serves on the House of Del­e­gates Ed­u­ca­tion Sub­com­mit­tee, also voiced his sup­port of Ho­gan’s man­date, cit­ing his sup­port of a post-La­bor Day start dat­ing back be­fore his elec­tion.

“Cit­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and the agri­cul­tural foun­da­tion that Ce­cil County is built upon as rea­sons for this com­mon sense ap­proach, I stood alone as the only one on stage ad­vo­cat­ing this now en­acted pol­icy,” he said of a 2014 can­di­date fo­rum he par­tic­i­pated in against then-Del­e­gate David Ru­dolph. “Lis­ten­ing to both sides of the ar­gu­ment over the last two years and many bill hear­ings later, I stand by my po­si­tion and stand with the gov­er­nor and comptroller on this pol­icy shift. I will fight to en­sure it is not over­rid­den dur­ing the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion.”

Ce­cil County Public Schools started on Mon­day, a week be­fore La­bor Day, and the sys­tem’s lat­est start date in nearly a decade. For the 2015-2016 school year, the first day of class was sched­uled for Aug. 20 — 18 days be­fore the hol­i­day. Like­wise, the 2014-2015 school year started on Aug. 21 — 11 days be­fore La­bor Day.

CCPS has tra­di­tion­ally fin­ished be­fore June 15, though. This year, the last day of school is sched­uled for June 13 while for the 2015-2016 school year, the fi­nal day was June 9. But in 2014, snow days forced the sys­tem to push the fi­nal day of school from the planned date of June 6 all the way to June 16.

In Ce­cil County, the school cal­en­dar is cre­ated by a 20-mem­ber cal­en­dar com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of par­ents, teach­ers, stu­dents, ad­min­is­tra­tors and sup­port staff. Their rec­om­men­da­tions are then passed on to the school board, who must ap­prove the fi­nal cal­en­dar.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY BRI­ANNA SHEA

Sub­sti­tute teacher Michelle Longinotti and teacher Meghan Handy call chil­dren to their seats for their morn­ing snack on Thurs­day at Elk Neck Ele­men­tary School.

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