DCPS chief reacts to Labor Day mandate
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.”