Montgomery County’s school board pitched a calendar proposal for next school year in May, months ahead of its usual schedule. But as parents and teachers weighed in by the hundreds, the state delivered an unexpected jolt.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued an executive order Aug. 31 saying schools could not open before Labor Day and must end by June 15.
So a Montgomery school board committee started anew this month, poring over six possibilities, asking about state waivers, pondering the unwelcome idea of intruding on spring break.
Two of the three proposals the committee backed would set the opening of school just after Labor Day, on Sept. 5, in 2017. A third proposal includes an Aug. 28 start, a plan that is similar to what Montgomery does now.
The option that complies with the Hogan decree would trim a day from Montgomery’s typical 184-day school year. But it also stands to affect spring break. If 2017-2018 brings more than three snow days, spring break could be cut back by up to three days.
“There’s considerably less flexibility,” said school board member Phil Kauffman, who serves on the committee.
The full school board is expected to vote in October, but officials say there are many unknowns. Two of the plans would require state waivers, and districts don’t yet have details about criteria.
The Maryland State Board of Education will take up issues related to Hogan’s executive order when it meets next week, said Andy Smarick, board president.
“In the short term, I think the state board will, at minimum, want to provide guidance to local school systems on how to proceed,” he said.
Montgomery’s efforts to grapple with the state mandate come more than three weeks after Hogan’s order, a summer-extending move that he said would benefit families and the economy. The action has upended school system calendar plans statewide.
Many districts have said they might have to trim spring break or certain holidays to start after Labor Day and still end by mid-June.
Patricia O’Neill, chair of the Montgomery policy management committee that took up the issue, said she and others feel a sense of urgency. She said she has heard from many families in the suburban district of 159,000 students.
“People want to know,” she said. “It affects their families. They make vacation plans. They arrange day care. They sign their kids up for camps.”
Another twist on the issue is that the state attorney general’s office said in a 24-page letter earlier this month that Hogan might have exceeded his authority with the order.
Reacting to that letter, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) said he would advise school systems to ignore the governor’s order and “set a calendar that is appropriate to them and their students.”
How many school systems will embrace such an approach is unclear.
In Montgomery, school officials are taking the order into account and will confer with school system lawyers as they proceed, said Michael Durso, school board president. “It continues to be a very cloudy situation,” he said.
The order came as Montgomery was considering a proposal that would have pushed its school-year calendar in the opposite direction — with an earlier-than-usual start date of Aug. 21 in 2017.
The public did not warm to the idea.
A district analysis showed that 75 percent of the first 1,900 comments were negative about the Aug. 21 start date. “That was cutting into summer and family plans,” said school board member Rebecca Smondrowski, adding that she heard many objections.
School board members scrapped the Aug. 21 idea almost immediately as deliberations began last week.
In Maryland, students are off school for many state-mandated holidays including Thanksgiving and the following day; the period from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day; Good Friday and Easter Monday; and federal holidays, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The state requires at least 180 school days each academic year.
The full school board could change any of the calendar options that move forward, and state actions could have an effect before the October board meeting, too: “It’s possible,” Kauffman said, “that by then there’s clarity on the process for waivers.”