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MCPS ‘Strongly Opposes’ Starting School Year After Labor Day, Despite Governor Hogan’s Executive Ord

“School after Labor Day is now the law of the land,” proclaimed Governor Larry Hogan after signing an executive order mandating that all Maryland public schools begin their school year after Labor Day. However, Montgomery County students shouldn’t start planning late August vacations to Ocean City just yet.

As Maryland Governor Larry Hogan was signing the executive order on Wednesday, Montgomery County Board of Education President Michael Durso was putting the finishing touches on his opposition to the governor’s plan.

Hogan’s Executive Order will require Maryland’s public schools to start classes after Labor Day, beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. Citing the benefits of a post-Labor Day school start for families, students, teachers, and the economy, the governor made the announcement on the Ocean City Boardwalk, where he was joined by Comptroller Peter Franchot, who has long been a proponent of pushing the start of school back to after Labor Day.

“Starting Maryland public schools after Labor Day is not just a family issue – it’s an economic and public safety issue that draws clear, strong, bipartisan support among an overwhelming majority of Marylanders,” said Hogan. “Comptroller Franchot and I believe, and the people of Maryland strongly agree, that this Executive Order puts the best interests of Marylanders first, especially the well-being of our students. This action is long overdue, and it is simply the right thing to do.”

However, not everyone is backing the new plan, and the largest school district in the State of Maryland is among the detractors.

“While the Montgomery County Board of Education certainly appreciates the Governor and Comptroller’s interest in supporting beach communities on the Eastern Shore,” wrote Durso in response to Governor Hogan’s actions. “We strongly oppose any attempt to usurp local decision-making around school calendars. Prohibiting schools from starting before Labor Day ignores critical issues faced by schools and the potential negative instructional impact on students. Determining the school calendar is complicated and requires balancing educational requirements, operational issues, and unique community needs all in the interest of students. As a key stakeholder and the largest school district in the state, we are disappointed that the Governor and Comptroller did not include us in their dialogue on this issue.”

The Executive Order signed Wednesday will require that Maryland’s public schools begin after Labor Day, complete the 180 days that are required under state law, and adjourn by June 15, beginning with the 2017-2018 school year.

However, the Executive Order does permit for a waiver to be applied for with the Maryland State Department of Education to be exempt from the post-Labor Day start date. For the 2017-2018 school year and beyond, local school systems will have to apply annually for a waiver based on compelling justification. 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.

While MCPS did not say that they would apply for such a waiver, based on the strong opposition voiced by Durso, and the school district’s previously proposed plan to start school two weeks prior to Labor Day, it is a good bet that Montgomery County will be among the school systems applying for the waiver.

Indeed, the Executive Order flies in the face of the MCPS’ proposed plan to have the 2017-2018 school year start a full week earlier than it did this year. In May, the Calendar Committee of MCPS is proposing that the 2017-2018 school year begin on August 21, 2017, with professional days for teachers begin August 15, 2017.

Montgomery County residents can provide feedback to MCPS on the proposed change of the start of school through an online portal. The Board of Education will adopt the 2017-2018 school year calendar by the November 2016 Board meeting.

According to the Governor’s office, in recent years, the effort to start schools after Labor Day has garnered “overwhelming” support across the state. The governor cited, two independent polls by Goucher College, conducted in 2014 and 2015, showed that more than 70 percent of Marylanders support this initiative. Additionally, a petition in favor of a post-Labor Day school start has collected nearly 25,000 signatures.

“The Montgomery County Public Schools calendar has a longstanding history of being developed through a collaborative review by key stakeholders within our district,” wrote Durso. “Input is solicited from parents, staff, students, and community leaders. While planning the 2017-2018 school calendar, the MCPS Office of the Chief Operating Officer drew its recommendations from representatives from the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals, Montgomery County Education Association, Service Employees International Union Local 500, Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, Montgomery County Faith Community Working Group, and other community and district representatives. Since the announcement of the proposed calendar on May 25, 2016, continued feedback has been solicited from the community that will go into the Board’s final decision at the November Board Meeting. The positive impact of local community opinions and concerns will be lost by a state mandate.”

Hogan and supporters of a post-Labor Day school start argue that economic benefits of a post-Labor Day school start have been well documented. A 2013 economic impact study by Maryland’s Bureau of Revenue Estimates found that a post-Labor Day school start could generate an additional $74.3 million in direct economic activity, including $3.7 million in new wages and $7.7 million in state and local tax revenue, according to the release.

According to the press release from the Governor’s office, in 2013, a nonpartisan task force, which included teachers, administrators, school board members, PTA members, and other public stakeholders, was convened by the General Assembly and chaired by the Maryland State Department of Education to examine the effects of a post-Labor Day school start on Maryland’s education system, as well as its economy and tourism industry. In a report that was issued on June 30, 2014, the task force stated: “there was no compelling evidence that showed there was any impact on education starting post-Labor Day.” The task force voted 12-3 to recommend that schools begin after Labor Day.

In his response, Durso argues for the importance of local school boards to be able to maintain their authority over such things as school calendars and school start times.

“Traditionally MCPS has started schools before Labor Day,” wrote Durso. “Many years ago, MCPS did start school after Labor Day; however, since instituting the collaborative process, our community has consistently determined that it is in the best interest of our students to start school before Labor Day. Debates around when schools should start must occur and remain at the local level where there is a need for flexibility following community feedback and engagement.”

Indeed, the Montgomery County Board of Education’s 2016 Legislative Platform specifically spelled out the Board’s opposition to mandating the school year begin after the Labor Day holiday.

“Maintaining local board authority on educational policies and administration is essential to the success of our public schools,” according to the Board’s 2016 Legislative Platform. “MCPS firmly believes that local boards of education are best positioned to assess operational needs and develop implementing plans that best balance educational practices, academic needs of students, available resources, and community interests.”

Durso called on elected officials in the Maryland General Assembly to support the Board’s position that local school boards should maintain the authority to set the date of the school year. “We appreciate the continued support on this issue from the Maryland General Assembly by their continued position that such complex decisions like this should remain with local boards of education,” wrote Durso.

Photos by Germantown Pulse.