Montgomery County’s school board voted to seek a waiver from Gov. Larry Hogan’s mandate that the school year begin after Labor Day, supporting Aug. 28 as the first day of classes.
The board on Monday unanimously backed a 2017-18 calendar that starts the school year a week before Labor Day, leaves spring break intact, builds in extra snow days and ends on June 14.
It also places a teacher work day on Sept. 1, when the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha may fall. This is the second year it has made such an accommodation, following years of requests for time off from Muslim community leaders.
While the Montgomery plan is similar to what the school system does now, it is contingent on a state waiver because it does not comply with Hogan’s executive order that Maryland schools start after Labor Day and end by June 15.
Hogan (R) announced the order Aug. 31 as a summer-extending measure and said it would be good for the economy and for families.
The order left many school systems scrambling. All but one of the state’s 24 school systems started before Labor Day this school year.
As Montgomery County considered its options, a board committee put forward three possibilities in September. Two of those three proposals relied on waivers being approved.
Hogan said school districts could seek waivers from the Maryland State Board of Education based on a compelling justification.
The state board took a step at its last meeting toward giving local school systems a way to seek them. It is now looking for policy and legal advice from state education staff, state board President Andy Smarick said Monday. It expects to take up the issue again at its October meeting.
Montgomery had strong educational reasons for setting the start of the school year before Labor Day, said Montgomery County School Superintendent Jack Smith. He cited labor contracts, instructional and operational needs, and history.
The resolution the county school board approved at its Monday meeting noted the importance of such issues as reducing summer learning loss — when students lose ground academically during the long break from school — and preserving instructional time in the event that schools are closed for emergencies.
County school board member Patricia O’Neill acknowledged during the Monday meeting that uncertainty remains. “If we’re denied, it’ll be Groundhog Day,” and the calendar discussion will resume, she said.
School district staff said community members had sent 320 recent emails on the topic, with views split between an option that started after Labor Day and the calendar the board supported.
County school board member Rebecca Smondrowski said she was supporting the measure even though she recognized many people would prefer to start after Labor Day. “I really think this is in the best interest of our student learning,” she said.
Under the measure the board approved, district officials will continue to work on a proposal that complies with the Hogan order, in case such an option is needed.