DCPS chief re­acts to La­bor Day man­date

Dorchester Star - - Front Page - By VIC­TO­RIA WIN­GATE vwingate@ches­pub.com

CAM­BRIDGE — Dorch­ester County Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Henry Wagner re­acted Thurs­day, Sept. 1, to the post-La­bor Day school start man­date is­sued by Gov. Larry Ho­gan. Ho­gan signed the ex­ec­u­tive or­der Wed­nes­day, Aug. 31, re­quir­ing all pub­lic schools to be­gin classes af­ter La­bor Day

and end classes by June 15. The change will take ef fect with the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

“I’m dis­ap­pointed at yes­ter­day’s an­nounce­ment,” Wagner said. “The for­mu­la­tion of a school cal­en­dar has been, and should re­main, a func­tion of the lo­cal board of ed­u­ca­tion. Es­tab­lish­ing a man­date that schools must start af­ter La­bor Day, and at the same time end by June 15, cre­ates some un­in­tended con­se­quences.”

Wagner is con­cerned that the new re­quire­ments will in­ter­fere with pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment for teach­ers, lessen the time al­lot­ted to pre­pare for and wrap up the school year, and shorten hol­i­day breaks for stu­dents and teach­ers.

“It will be im­pos­si­ble for us to de­sign a cal­en­dar where stu­dents will start af­ter La­bor Day and ev­ery­body fin­ishes by June 15 with­out ei­ther pro­vid­ing fewer than 180 days or short­en­ing hol­i­day breaks, such as Thanks­giv­ing, Christ­mas, and Easter,” Wagner said.

The con­straints on the cal­en­dar may also cause stu­dent achieve­ment to suf­fer, he said.

“If there is a se­vere win­ter, we will not be able to ful­fill this man­date, un­less the 180 rule is waived, and that means fewer days for kids to learn,” Wagner said. “It also means that the achieve­ment on stan­dard­ized tests will suf­fer. We did not cre­ate this man­date that kids be tested for ac­count­abil­ity pur­poses. We ac­cept our ac­count­abil­ity and we em­brace it, but if we’re go­ing to be held ac­count­able for stu­dent achieve­ment on these tests, then give us an op­por­tu­nity to help them learn as much as they can.”

In keep­ing with other lo­cal dis­tricts, and or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Boards of Ed­u­ca­tion and the Pub­lic School Su­per­in­ten­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Mary­land, Wagner said that lo­cal au­ton­omy is the root of the is­sue.

“For all these rea­sons, I am op­posed to what was done yes­ter­day,” said Wagner. “The big­gest rea­son of all is that this should not come from an ex­ec­u­tive or­der and boards of ed­u­ca­tion should be mak­ing these de­ci­sions.”

In a news re­lease, MABE said the strict lim­i­ta­tion of end­ing school on June 15 will re­quire not only new school cal­en­dars, but also new teacher and em­ployee con­tracts. The or­ga­ni­za­tion be­lieve that the time and money spent on ne­go­ti­a­tions would be bet­ter spent ed­u­cat­ing Mar yland’s 870,000 pub­lic school stu­dents.

Schools will still be re­quired to sched­ule 180 in­struc­tional days for stu­dents. Ho­gan said that coun­ties will still be able to ap­ply for a waiver of the 180-day rule in the event of too many snow days.

“Comptroller Fran­chot and I be­lieve, and the peo­ple of Mary­land strongly agree, that this ac­tion puts the best interest of Mary­lan­ders first, es­pe­cially the well-be­ing of our stu­dents,” Ho­gan said. “Most peo­ple agree that this is long over­due and that it is sim­ply the right thing to do.”

The ex­ec­u­tive or­der al­lows in­di­vid­ual school sys­tems to ap­ply for a waiver of the post-La­bor Day start re­quire­ment if they are able to pro­vide compelling jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. School sys­tems will have to ap­ply for this waiver an­nu­ally. Fur­ther­more, the State De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion will es­tab­lish pro­ce­dures and stan­dards for school dis­tricts and in­di­vid­ual schools seek­ing spe­cial waivers to ac­com­mo­date non-tra­di­tional sched­ules.

The change stems from a 2013 ini­tia­tive, led by Comptroller Peter Fran­chot, to “Let Summer Be Summer.” Fran­chot cited mil­lions of dol­lars in eco­nomic ben­e­fits, ex­tended va­ca­tion time for stu­dents and teach­ers to spend with their fam­i­lies, and over­whelm­ing sup­port from Mary­lan­ders as ra­tio­nale for the change.

“As the state’s chief fis­cal of­fi­cer, the post-La­bor Day school start will be a tremen­dous eco­nomic boost for our small busi­nesses, restau­rants, shops, and ho­tels, so many of whom heav­ily de­pend on Mar yland’s thriv­ing tourism in­dus­try and the eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity dur­ing the summer months,” Fran­chot said.

A non-par­ti­san, leg­isla­tive task force of teach­ers, ad­min­is­tra­tors, school board mem­bers, PTA mem­bers, and other pub­lic stake­hold­ers voted 12-3 in fa­vor of the post-La­bor Day start as months of ex­am­i­na­tion and anal­y­sis “de­ter­mined that there was no compelling ev­i­dence that showed there was any im­pact on ed­u­ca­tion start­ing post-La­bor Day.”

HENRY WAGNER

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