The Washington Post

Start school after Labor Day? Maryland task force says yes


The march to the sea at Ocean City, Md. in July 2012. (Jeffrey MacMillan)

A Maryland task force has recommended that the state’s public schools delay opening until after Labor Day, a proposal that seeks to extend summer vacation for a week or more in many areas.

The state task force, which has been meeting since September, voted 11 to 4 to embrace a later start date statewide, officials said Tuesday.

The idea — which many in the tourism industry support and many educators oppose — still has a long way to go to have any effect on school calendars in Maryland’s 24 school systems. It is expected to be included in a report the task force gives to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the General Assembly by late June. It could then become part of legislation offered in next year’s legislative session.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a strong supporter of pushing back the start of the school year, said such a change could mean more than $7.7 million in additional tax revenue and $74.3 million in new economic activity. Many school districts in the state begin classes a week before Labor Day.

“My major concern is the quality of interaction between families and their kids, which is jeopardized by this creep of starting school earlier and earlier,” said Franchot (D). “If we keep going in that direction, it will be July when we start school.”

The task force was established by a bill passed last year, and most of its members were appointed by the governor. Nina Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor, said O’Malley had no comment on the task force’s vote.

Adam Mendelson, a spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association, said the teachers union looks forward to seeing details of the task force’s recommendation but continues to support local superintendents and school boards in their objections.

He cited such concerns as the proposal’s effect on inclement weather planning, professional development for teachers and the amount of instruction time available before new standardized tests begin in March. On Tuesday, Montgomery County schools spokesman Dana Tofig said the county school board has in the past opposed legislation requiring a post-Labor Day school opening.

Montgomery’s superintendent, Joshua P. Starr, wrote a letter to the task force in February urging that such calendar decisions be left to local control.

In Prince George’s County, schools chief Kevin Maxwell made the same point, citing a number of issues, including the diverse needs of the state’s 24 school systems and the importance of flexibility amid issues such as inclement weather.

David Reel, president and chief executive of the Maryland Hotel and Lodging Association, lauded the task force’s vote.

“It’s good economic sense in terms of generating revenue from the state,” Reel said. He cited the example of Virginia — where the so-called Kings Dominion law prohibits schools from starting before Labor Day without a state waiver — and said data did not show a negative impact on test scores.

“That’s a huge concern for everybody,” he said. “We don’t want to do it at the expense of student performance.”

Reel said that ideally, school districts would look at their calendars and find “opportunities to shave off a day here or there,” rather than extend later into June. The idea, he said, is to “have as full a summer season as possible.”

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.

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